News Archives July 3, 2012

News for July 3, 2012

 

SUL ROSS GRADUATE STUDENT AWARDED NASA SPACE GRANT FELLOWSHIP

Laura Tang, Westminster, Cal., a graduate student in the Sul Ross State University Department of Biology, was recently awarded a NASA Texas Space Grant Consortium Graduate Fellowship.

The award consists of a monetary award of $10,000 during the next academic year towards educational expenses. There were 21 fellowships awarded in the state of Texas from 107 total applicants. Tang is pursuing her Master’s of Science degree in biology in the laboratory of Jackie Denson and is focusing her research on novel microorganisms that play a critical role in the desert nitrogen cycle.

Her future career goals are to teach science at the secondary education level and to introduce students to active hands on research at the earliest stages of their careers.

For more information, contact Denson, (432) 837-8217 or jdenson@sulross.edu.

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SUL ROSS MCNAIR RESEARCHER CREATING ROCKHOUSE FIRE ARCHIVE

by Steve Lang, News and Publications

One of the most devastating fires in Texas history is being chronicled in archive form by a Sul Ross State University student.

Kitty Sibayan, Fort Davis, is compiling data, maps, photographs and oral interviews to create an archive of the 2011 Rockhouse Fire. The 34-day fire (April 9-May 12, 2011) burned over 314,000 acres in Presidio and Jeff Davis counties, destroyed 22 structures and at one point, enlisted more than 500 firefighters.

"Rockhouse Fire: Creating an Archive One Year Later," is Sibayan’s McNair Program research project. Sibayan, a senior History major, is mentored by Dr. Mark Emerson, assistant professor of History.

"This is an historical archive," said Sibayan "I am attempting to put together a narrative of the Rockhouse Fire, comprised of everybody’s stories."

And like the fire itself, Sibayan is struggling to keep the information contained. Her searches for information from involved state and federal agencies produced 22 gigabytes of data from the Texas Forestry Service alone, including maps, photos and written material.

Other resources include the National Forest Service, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Department of Transportation, National Weather Service, FEMA and the U.S. Border Patrol. Sibayan has saved issues of three area newspapers, The Alpine Avalanche, The Jeff Davis Mountain Dispatch and The Big Bend Sentinel, all who covered the fire extensively. In addition, she is conducting numerous oral interviews, beginning with Jeff Davis County officials.

"Dr. Emerson has been a really big help in keeping it (information collection) contained," Sibayan said. She estimates that she spends up to 30 hours per week on her research.

Sibayan, who started collecting data last October, said "within 12 days I had six inches of papers from DPS in my mailbox.

"I feel like I have just ‘tipped’ the iceberg," she added, noting that she plans numerous oral interviews as well.

Although a trained firefighter herself, the research project has been eye-opening.

"I’m really learning what questions to ask," she said. "This is an amazing project."

Through her research, Sibayan hopes to create a base for a Master’s degree thesis, a book, or both.

"I can think of so many scenarios," she said. "Where to begin and where to stop, and (at this point) I’m not stopping."

This is her second McNair Program research project. The first, a study of Terlingua’s Arl Walter Fulcher, resulted in a paper presentation at last fall’s Center for Big Bend Studies conference, held at Sul Ross. "Arl Walter Fulcher: A Cowboy in France and a Soldier in Terlingua," will also be published in the upcoming Journal of Big Bend Studies.

"My training with writing the Fulcher project last year was invaluable," Sibayan said. "It (McNair) is an excellent program."

The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program is designed to encourage first generation, low-income students and minority undergraduates to consider careers in college teaching as well as prepare for doctoral study. Students who participate in the program are provided with research opportunities and faculty mentors.

Named in honor of the astronaut who died in the 1986 space-shuttle explosion, the program was established at Sul Ross in November 2007. It is funded through the Department of Education’s TRIO programs.

For more information, contact Mary Bennett, McNair Program director, (432) 837-8478 or

mbennett@sulross.edu.

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FROM OWLS TO FALCONS, SUL ROSS STUDENT PURSUES MCNAIR RESEARCH ON RAPTORS

by Steve Lang, News and Publications

David Price Rumbelow’s early interest in wildlife has evolved into field research on the peregrine falcon.

Rumbelow, Van, a senior Biology major at Sul Ross State University, pitches his tent for several days a week in Big Bend National Park to study activities of the peregrine falcon – from courtship rituals to raising fledglings. For four hours at a stretch, usually starting at dawn or before dusk, he scans the skies and rocky ledges at one of four aeries under study.

"It does require a lot of patience, and helps to have a good chair or cushion," Rumbelow smiled. "You can’t fall asleep, because you might only have about a 20-minute window to see what the birds are doing."

Rumbelow’s McNair Program project, "Nest-Site Fidelity and Productivity of Peregrine Falcons in Big Bend National Park," is his second McNair project. Last year, he studied the Mexican spotted owl in the Davis Mountains.

Although he will drive to remote areas of Big Bend National Park, then hike or boat to a designated nesting site, pitch his tent and spend hours to record minutes of falcon activity, Rumbelow couldn’t be happier.

"For me, it’s almost too easy, because I love what I’m doing," he said. "For the next 10 years, all I want to do is research, and to have the opportunity to do it as an undergrad is amazing."

Rumbelow is working with Aimee Roberson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in his project. Dr. Chris Ritzi, Sul Ross associate professor of Biology, serves as his faculty mentor. Rumbelow helps Roberson monitor four sites (aeries). There, he waits and watches for falcons, and when sighted, determines sex and age and identifies young (fledglings) if present.

The female peregrine falcon lays one to three eggs, nesting in remote areas, often rocky cliffs. The sub-species of falcon that lives in Big Bend National Park is not as migratory as other sub-species, and because of the climate, usually does not travel great distances.

After World War II, some peregrine falcon populations plummeted to the endangered level due to toxic effects of DDT in their food chain. Assisted by reintroduction of birds raised in captivity into the wild and a ban of DDT (1972), falcons have made a comeback. Peregrine falcons were removed from the endangered species list in 1999.

In Big Bend Park, the population suffered in the 1990s due to severe drought and possible effects of DDT use in Mexico. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service monitors the park population every three years, the time required for a fledgling to reach adult status. Results are compared to pre-1999 data.

"This population never got reintroduced (with birds raised in captivity)," Rumbelow said. "Here, peregrine falcons tend to stay below the national reproductivity level."

Rumbelow is also studying how falcons adapt to "sky islands,"in this instance, the mountain cliffs of Big Bend National Park that are virtually surrounded by the "ocean" of desert landscape.

"It is very important to understand how animals utilize these ‘islands’ of habitat and use the corridors to move between them," Rumbelow said.

Continued human development often fragments the environment as well, Rumbelow said, and understanding how wildlife adapt to the fragmentation can lead to better planning.

"You can’t stop human growth and development, but you can learn how to make those eco-systems blend as much as possible."

Rumbelow, who has been interested in wildlife since childhood, plans to continue his research – hopefully focusing on raptors – at Sul Ross, Texas Tech University or Boise State University. He will graduate in August with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and minor in Natural Resource Management.

"I enjoy working with raptors and endangered and threatened species," he said.

Ritzi said that Rumbelow’s research with both the peregrine falcon and Mexican spotted owl "has gotten him a wonderful experience in dealing with threatened and endangered species.

"I am really excited about his project," Ritzi said. "Not just the fact that he is looking into current information, but that he is also looking at historic trends (of the falcon population) to see what has happened over time....Price is getting a broader survey than what the monitored sites would give in order to see if it gives a more accurate picture."

Ritzi praised both Rumbelow’s development as a student and the McNair program.

"McNair has helped to push and support so many students over the past five years," he said, adding that the program provides undergraduate research opportunities not otherwise available.

The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program is designed to encourage first generation, low-income students and minority undergraduates to consider careers in college teaching as well as prepare for doctoral study. Students who participate in the program are provided with research opportunities and faculty mentors.

Named in honor of the astronaut who died in the 1986 space-shuttle explosion, the program was established at Sul Ross in November 2007. It is funded through the Department of Education’s TRIO programs.

For more information, contact Mary Bennett, McNair Program director, (432) 837-8478 or

mbennett@sulross.edu.

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