When you are a professor who teaches wildlife management courses to undergraduate and graduate students, you get used to things not always going as planned. Wildlife doesn’t always cooperate. A field research day might get rained out. A hypothesis might not pan out as a student expected.
So, when the world turned upside down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Borderlands Research Institute’s (BRI) Dr. Ryan Luna took it all in stride.
“Up until Spring Break, we were operating as normal,” said Dr. Luna, who is the Kelly R. Thompson Professor of Quail Research at BRI, Chair of the Department of Natural Resource Management and Associate Professor of Wildlife Management at Sul Ross State University.
“Then, as a result of COVID-19, Spring Break was extended a week. During that time, we were also notified that when classes resumed, they would be conducted remotely through April 12th. Then on March 16th, we were notified that we’d be online for the duration of the semester. Additionally, all summer classes will now be conducted remotely as well, with no prospect of face-to-face classes until the fall.”
Face-to-face quality interaction and an open-door policy are hallmarks of the student experience at the Department of Natural Resource Management at Sul Ross State University. Because of a relatively small student-to-professor ratio, interaction with professors happens whenever a student needs it. Dr. Luna is doing his best to replicate that online.
“We’re using the university’s online Blackboard system to upload lectures, PowerPoints and videos. Blackboard also keeps track of assignments and grades,” he said. “We’re also doing some classes on Zoom for some virtual face-to-face interaction. And we’re all making ourselves available to our students through email and calls.”
Dr. Luna came to BRI in 2013 as an assistant professor and research scientist. He teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses. This semester he is teaching a Wildlife Management Techniques course to a dozen undergraduate students. This course is also the capstone course for Wildlife Management majors, and is a field research-based course that culminates in the presentation of a research project to the rest of the class.
“That’s been a little tricky,” he said. “Some of the students completed some of their field research before they left for Spring Break, but some didn’t. Now the students are scattered and studying from home, which makes collaborative work on a field research project impossible. So, we had to come up with an alternative way to finish out the semester.”
Dr. Luna and his students have pivoted to a term paper approach instead for students that had not obtained their field data. Dr. Luna is also teaching a graduate Range and Wildlife Research Methods course this semester to four students. That course covers a lot of ground through class readings and discussions. They haven’t missed a beat in the new online format.
“The last few weeks have certainly presented some challenges, but nothing we can’t handle,” said Dr. Luna. “We’ve just had to adapt to continue moving forward. Wildlife is unpredictable, so that experience is serving us well. We’ve learned to take things in stride. This situation is no different, and we are augmenting materials to explain crucial concepts and disseminate appropriate information.”
All the same, Dr. Luna looks forward to the fall semester, when he hopes he will be out in the field and in the classroom interacting with his students. Until then, he will do his best to provide the best learning environment he can.