Students learn about marshes and migrations on the Inaugural OSE Graduate Student Retreat at Wormsloe

During the fourth weekend of April 2022, 25 OSE graduate students embarked on the inaugural OSE Graduate Student Retreat in Savannah, Georgia. Envisioned by our Graduate Program Representatives, Cali Wilson and Daniel Suh, the retreat fulfills a recent initiative by UGA Graduate School’s to promote retention and inclusion. And, in the wake of two COVID-19 pandemic years with remote learning and canceled school traditions, the OSE graduate students were keen to connect in the outdoors.

UGA’s Center for Research and Education at Wormsloe (CREW) hosted the students in their cabin facilities on the Wormsloe Historic Site. This site is rich in cultural and environmental history. First constructed as a fort to protect from Spanish invasion, then operating as a plantation worked by enslaved people, the 800+ acres are now managed as a State Historic Site.

Building on several diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives hosted by OSE, this weekend presented an opportunity to engage with the issues of environmental justice and racism in coastal Georgia. Students visited the Pin Point Heritage Museum to learn about the settlements and lives of freed slaves who were forced off Skidaway Island, and the role of oystering as an industry for Gullah/Geechee people. Then, led by OSE graduate candidate Jeff Beauvais, students toured downtown Savannah, on a 2.5 mile loop hearing about the human migrations and politics that have occurred in this historic port city.

Of course, ecology nerds can’t visit the marsh without some outdoor activities. Andrew Nagy led a fishing expedition and Anna Willoughby took kayakers out on the Skidaway River. Laura Kojima and friends herped in the dead of night, and Jeff Beauvais taught crabbing techniques. Our Saturday ended with a boat ride with dolphin sightings and lots of sea bird squawks.

The weekend ended with a tour of Wormsloe, led by Wormsloe Foundation President and UGA librarian Dr. Sarah Ross. We discussed the importance of heirloom seeds, the abundance of fresh water on the Isle (the tastiest on earth!), and the strength of tabby as a building material.

Several OSE alumni have collaborated with CREW for their graduate research as Wormsloe Fellows, including Ania Majewski (Ph.D 2019), Alyssa Gehman (Ph.D 2016), and Jennifer Pahl (M.S. 2009). These alumni researched diverse systems including butterfly gardens, mud crab parasites, and wetlands. CREW is growing, with new facilities planned to expand opportunities for teaching and research on Isle of Hope.

What a successful weekend! Special thanks to Dr. Sonia Altizer, Dr. Craig Osenberg, Mica Turner, Laura Leachman, Jennifer Mathews, Amberly Tankersley, Leslie Sitz, Joanne Greenway, and the Retreat Planning Committee: Jeff Beauvais, Daniel Suh, Cali Wilson, Matt Pierce, Alyssa Quan, and Anna Willoughby.