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Science Faculty Share Expertise in Kenya, Belize and Alaska

Doug Woodmansee, Russell Kincaid and Alfred Conklin Teach and Learn in Exotic Locales

January 12, 2014

Alfred Conklin, professor of chemistry and agriculture, spent several weeks in Kenya assisting with the region's agricultural challenges.

Alfred Conklin, professor of chemistry and agriculture, spent several weeks in Kenya assisting with the region's agricultural challenges.

A trio of Wilmington College faculty members from the science area traveled to the corners of the globe in journeys that involved seeking or sharing knowledge — or both.

Alfred Conklin, professor of chemistry and agriculture, worked with agriculture and food production in Kenya, while Douglas Woodmansee, professor of biology, provided medical care in an impoverished area of Belize and Russell Kincaid, associate professor of mathematics, learned about some of Alaska’s most incredible geological features.

Kenyan Quakers invited Conklin to assist a pastoral community in the nation’s Samburu region in broadening the types of food they regularly consume to improve their nutritional intake. The tribe is comprised largely of herders that take sheep and goats to pasture each day. Conklin offered food production instruction to mostly women.

“This area was food deficient — they had to import a lot,” he noted. “The people originally ate milk and blood (meat), but they’re switching over to ugali (ground corn flour and water), beans and kale (a variety of cabbage).”

Conklin cited the “inconsistent” rainfall inherent to eastern Kenya as one of the most imposing problems for growing crops — the deadly drought of 2006 continues to reverberate in the tribal society. Also, with no electricity or running water, opportunities for irrigating crops are few.

“This is a pretty primitive area. If you want to get there, you need a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a snorkel on it,” he said about the dirt roads pocked with mud holes during the rainy season.

The trip marked Conklin’s fifth visit to Africa, as, over the years, he has shared his expertise in Niger, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and, now, Kenya again. “I always enjoy working with people from other cultures — that’s always been part of my motivation,” he said. “Helping people is the key. If people need my help, I’ll help them.”

Woodmansee spent 10 days in the Central American nation of Belize in June accompanying nursing and pre-medical students from other institutions in providing medical care.

(LEFT) Douglas Woodmansee, professor of biology, assisting in providing medical care in rural Belize.

They visited homes to learn residents’ medical history and conduct basic physical examinations before referring patients to physicians. “Students learned about public health and basic clinical medicine while interacting with poor people in a Third World country,” he said.

Woodmansee, who also had a chance to gain a local insight into his interest in parasites, said his major motivation was to determine if such a public health experience might benefit Wilmington College students.

“The main reason why I took the trip was to scout the organization, International Service Learning, and see if it were a good fit for our students interested in pre-med, physical therapy and nursing,” he said, noting he may try and set up a WC trip in the near future.

Also, in fall 2012, Woodmansee traveled with microbiologists to China, where they visited three large universities and the National Academy of Science. He was struck by the almost unfathomable amount of construction occurring in large cities and the prevalence of government science and technology grants for “anything that could make money.”

Interestingly, “We saw no hint that bioethics were in the calculus of anything they were doing,” he added.

Kincaid traveled to the “great, natural outdoor beauty” that is Alaska, where he took two intensive courses on the state’s glaciers and its history with earthquakes and tsunamis.

(RIGHT) Russell Kincaid, associate professor of mathematics, studied Alaska's glaciers and earthquakes.

The experience hearkened the mathematician’s “broad range of interests” as he was fascinated with learning about the natural advance and retreat of Alaska’s massive glaciers.

“Some of these glaciers have advanced so slowly that there’s a forest on top of them,” he said, noting that his time in the glacier fields has motivated him to consider researching the glacial moraine in nearby Highland County, Ohio.

The Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 was a focal point of his course on the state’s significant seismic activity. The 9.2, “megathrust” temblor — the most powerful ever recorded in North America — proved devastating in south central Alaska and resulted in deadly tsunamis emanating from Prince William Sound that caused damage as far as California, Hawaii and Japan. The episode resulted in 143 deaths in the sparsely populated state.

“A large forest dropped by nine feet as a result of the earthquake,” he said.

Both Kincaid and Conklin received travel money from WC’s Isaac Harvey Fund, which assists in helping fund student and faculty travel involving such areas of Quaker interest as service, peace, social justice and education. The fund depends on gifts from alumni and friends.