Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology
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Faculty and Staff
Tony Cummings, Academic Director
Tony Cummings has a BS in environmental studies and biology from St. Lawrence University and a master’s of environmental science from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Early in his career, he became involved in teaching ecological study abroad programs in Costa Rica and then moved to North Queensland where he taught at the Center for Rainforest Studies on the Atherton Tableland for eight years. Tony has also taught university-level ecological field studies programs in New Zealand. His main research interests involve rainforest succession, especially reforestation plantings. He is a member of the Society for Conservation Biology, Trees for the Tablelands (TREAT), and the Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group (TKMG). Tony has worked with the SIT Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology program since 2002. His main responsibilities as academic director include overseeing and coordinating the entire program, teaching the Environmental Field Studies Seminar, managing academic and service logistics on field excursions, and advising and working with students in academic goal setting and achievement.
Dr. John (Jack) Grant, Senior Academic Advisor and Rainforest Ecology Field Leader
Dr. Grant is a zoologist, specializing in ornithology and wildlife ecology of tropical forests. He has been teaching in various study abroad programs for the past 21 years, including programs of SIT, The School for Field Studies (SFS), American Universities International Program (AUIP), and The Experiment in International Living. He graduated from University College Dublin in 1982 and went on to complete a PhD at the Australian National University. He moved to north Queensland in 1987 and has been involved in teaching and research in the Wet Tropics rainforests ever since. First as a faculty member at the SFS Centre for Rainforest Studies (1988–1997) and later as academic director of the SIT Natural and Cultural Ecology program in Cairns (1998–2003), he has accumulated in-depth experience working with American student groups. As president of the Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group, he is also involved in community conservation on the Atherton Tablelands, where he lives, works on a part-time basis as a team leader in environmental restoration with Conservation Volunteers Australia, and guides a variety of short-term student field courses in the north Queensland region. He also pursues his interests in art, music, photography, travel, and his dog.
Russell Butler, Field Leader, Aboriginal Camping Trip
Russell Butler is a Senior Traditional Elder of the Banjin and Warragamay people of the Hinchinbrook Island region between Cairns and Townsville. As a boy, Russell learned many traditional skills and stories from his grandmother. Russell has stated "I went to two schools — mainstream school and my grandmother's school. . . . Now it's my job to teach my sons, to pass on that knowledge and keep those skills and traditions alive." SIT has had the privilege of working with Russell since 1993. Russell specializes in teaching students the cultural and material aspects of the traditional Aboriginal lifestyle in coastal North Queensland. Russell uses stories, discussions, and bush walks to teach students ethno-botany, tool making, and Aboriginal environmental philosophy.
Dr. Vanessa Messmer, Academic Advisor and Marine Ecology Field Leader
Vanessa grew up in a few places, but has her roots in France and Germany. She moved to Townsville in 2000, where she completed a BSc with Honours in Marine Biology in 2003. After working at the University of Perpignan (France) for a couple of years, she returned to James Cook University (JCU) and obtained her PhD in 2010. She is currently a research fellow with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies at JCU in Townsville. Her research focuses on the causes and consequences of biodiversity loss from a genetic to ecosystem level in coral reef fish assemblages and on the effects of climate change on reef organisms.
Merryl Baetge, Field Assistant
Merryl has worked in a diverse range of jobs throughout her career, including nursing and leading short trips into remote wilderness areas of North Queensland. She is responsible for assisting with the organization and logistics of materials and food services while students are on field trips.
Duration: 15 weeks
Program Base: Cairns
Prerequisites: Coursework in environmental studies, ecology, biology, or related fields, as assessed by SIT. Read more...
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