Students learn firsthand from world-famous National Geographic photographer

Have you seen the large canvases flying high on building sides across campus? The ones showing everything from a litter of baby coyotes, to a group of African wild dogs and a pair of Golden snub-nosed monkeys?

One pair of NKU students most definitely have.

The two students have a special interest in the project, which snagged them an inside look at just how the images are made.

The well-known National Geographic animal photographer behind these works, Joel Sartore, gave the pair of students a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to photograph animals in captivity.

NKU students Emily Keener and Evan Sgouris spent last Wednesday alongside birds, small fish and several other animals as a part of an excursion they took to the Columbus Zoo and an additional aquatic life center with Sartore.

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Sartore photographed the different animals as a part of his Photo Ark project—a collection of over 4,000 species he has photographed over the past nine years in an attempt to photograph every species of animal held in the world’s zoos.

Sgouris, a junior photography major, was invited to go on the trip due to his position interning at the NKU art gallery, one of over fifty venues to host a FotoFocus gallery featuring Sartore’s work. Sgouris said he was not only just happy to get to see how Sartore does his work, but that he learned a lot about the Photo Ark project, how it works, and about photography in general.

“A big thing for me was the way that he shot the animals,” Sgouris said. “Especially the way he shot fish. I learned the style he used for getting them to sit still, lighting techniques and more.”

Sgouris also made a trip with Sartore to the Cincinnati Zoo on Thursday where he was the sole student to help Sartore in the process of photographing birds and salamanders there.

“It was nice to see how he interacted with the people at the zoo. Some people are really iffy about being around a camera, but he really put people at ease,” Sgouris said.  “I absolutely loved it. He would say stuff like ‘it’s just a fish day,’ but even that for me was awesome.”

Keener, a junior environmental science major, said the opportunity to do the shoot in Columbus with Sartore arose from his planned lecture last Thursday night at NKU, which landed him in the area a day earlier than necessary.

Not wanting to waste anytime, Keener and Sgouris were invited to accompany Sartore as he traveled to Columbus to use his time in the area to capture photos of some species he has yet to photographically document.

The students helped Sartore photograph two birds at the Columbus Zoo and then went to a mussel and freshwater fish facility that is linked to the zoo, where the group “staked out in a room” and went through the Photo Ark database to see if he had photographed all of its species or not.

Keener was invited on the trip due to her time spent this past summer doing research on Sartore’s work. She joined forces with another student to look into ways this sort of scientific photography can help teach and communicate scientific lessons.

“I researched each of the 27 animals and compiled unique and interesting ‘fun facts,’” Keener said in her research poster about the project. “These fun facts were used to illustrate important scientific concepts such as natural selection, adaptation, physiological advantages and parental behavior and care.”

Overall Sartore, who has been a freelance photographer for National Geographic for 20 years and whose current Photo Ark project is his own independent project separate from the National Geographic brand, said his goal is to document endangered species and landscapes in order to show a world worth saving.

And this is something that really resonated with Keener.

“I think it is important to collaborate with other fields to make science relatable,” she said. “I like art as an avenue to show people that science is not just a bunch of fancy words. I’m really into anything that communicates science and photography is something that definitely has the potential to do this.”


Students channel passion to save local urban forest

A student’s passion for nature and saving the wilderness recently landed him in the most unlikely of places: the city of Cincinnati’s urban Price Hill neighborhood.

Just across the Ohio River, nestled between bustling streets and historic houses, senior sociology major Luke Freeman’s latest endeavor has him measuring trees and drilling up soil in an area some community members didn’t even know existed.

Freeman works at Imago Earth Center,a 36-year-old environmental education organization interested in getting people who live in urban areas to be as sustainable as possible.



His mission is to track and reestablish the health of the center’s urban forest, and in turn, help the community surrounding it.

“The biggest thing we are doing is we preserve 36 acres of urban green space. Sixteen acres is free and open to the public,” said Chris Clements, executive director of Imago. “So anybody, regardless of where they live or what they make, can ride a bus, they can walk, they can bike or they can drive and they can have a place to be in nature.”

This green space and organization is even more vital to the area due to its location just three miles from downtown Cincinnati in a low income neighborhood, according to Clements.

The Project

The research Freeman is currently working on is called the Permanent Forest Plot Project, which was started to acquire a large set of data about the different forest types in the United States.

“So in this forest, an urban forest, we are trying to look at how big the trees are growing in the area, the species compositions, soil characteristics such as PH and organic matter, and moisture to look at the bare minerals they have to work with and grow,” Freeman said.

Freeman also uses tools such as calipers to measure and track tree growth.

Environmental science major Katie Ollier records data with fellow researcher Freeman.

Environmental science major Katie Ollier records data with fellow researcher Freeman.

“This measurement allows us to track the tree’s growth, which tells us the biomass of these plots,” he said. “You can use it to detect growth rates, how certain species are doing in different areas.”

All of these findings can be used to help predict the forest health and ways that may improve it in the future.

“Our big plan with the land is something we call the vibrant forest project,” Clements said. “What we want to demonstrate is how urban forests can be these happy, healthy places where people can get out to, but also where wildlife and plants are happy and healthy as well.”

NKU environmental science major Katie Ollier is also working working on the project.

“I just started onto Imago here this semester and so far it has been just a fantastic experience,” Ollier said. “I really wouldn’t change it for anything.”

The researchers for this project record all data to an online database, so they will be able to make analyses with the additional information that other people doing similar projects have gathered.

Tucked into the corner of Freeman and Ollier’s first plot was an old and decrepit looking tree, so big they had to pull out a measuring tape to collect data instead of using their calipers.

“This tree is the biggest tree on our plot and one of the oldest in the forest,” Freeman said. “Over the next couple of years, we will come back and track this tree’s growth and make predictions about its health from the numbers we’re collecting.”

Why this urban forest?

Freeman first ventured to Imago for a sociology project to see how the forest area affects the community around it.

From there, he tried working with the center in any way he could, eventually getting the opportunity to start working out in the forest.

Clements said the effect of this project could be great for the community and that he is really trying to get everyone outdoors and in nature, specifically the area’s youth.

“All the science is telling us that kids who spend time outdoors are happier, healthier and do better in school,” Clements said. “We are also training tomorrow’s environmental leaders in this process.”

Senior sociology major Luke Freeman.

Senior sociology major Luke Freeman.

Clements said Imago is doing everything from holding workshops for adults, to summer camps for children, to teaching urban community members how to plant and grow their own vegetables indoors.

Freeman and Clements hope tracking and assessing the health of the forest will provide the community with a natural place to visit so they can be more in touch with sustainability and nature.

“This is just us doing our part to protect the natural world,” Freeman said. “Especially right here in Cincinnati. Urban forests just aren’t everywhere. So I think they are important. Plus the impact I think this could have on the community is limitless.”

While Ollier isn’t from this area, she said the project is still of the utmost importance to her as well.

“I am actually from farther down south and we have more land down there,” she said. “Not everyone gets to have that feeling of ‘oh, let’s go out and play in the woods, let’s go experience nature, let’s hear the birds sing.’ No one in these cities and urban areas really get that experience, so this is definitely important, not just for the community, but for the future of this area.”

Why Freeman?

As a sociology major, Freeman stands out due to his dual passion for both the environment and the people within it.

“I feel sorry for everyone who is locked in an office all day, staring at a computer, typing,” he said. “I’m out here with the birds, they are singing to me and the trees are blowing in the wind. I just feel like this is where I have to be.”

He said finding Imago has really been a blessing, and Clements agrees.

Freeman uses a caliper to measure a tree in Imago Earth Center’s urban forest.

Freeman uses a caliper to measure a tree in Imago Earth Center’s urban forest.

NKU is really looking for these partnerships and really wants their students engaged, according to Clements, who also thinks that Freeman is setting a really good foundation for future students to get involved with this kind of work.

Besides his work for Imago, Luke also works for NKU’s Center or Environmental Restoration and is the Campus Recruitment Leader for NKU’s Environmentally Concerned Organization of Students.

“Being the liaison between the organization and the rest of campus means I am the active face of the organization,” Freeman said. “That’s good because I could talk about fracking and mountaintop removal mining, or this kind of stuff all day.”

Freeman plans to graduate in 2014, with hopes to one day work for the US Forest Service, because overall, this kind of work is really what he is passionate about.

“Forest conservation, forest restoration is like I guess fixing this mess that we’ve been left with and looking for solutions,” Freeman said. “That is really what I’m about.”

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NKU’s student government looks to plumbing to promote a greener campus

What do the Student Government Association and the university’s restrooms have in common?

Senior BFA drawing major Denise Wellbrock refills her water bottle at a filling station in the Student Union. One SGA senator thinks water filling stations such as this could help make NKU a greener campus.

Last week, they shared a lot more than one may think, as a SGA senator asked the university to place more filling stations on water fountains across campus, as well as dual flush valves on the university’s toilets, in order to make campus a more environmentally friendly place.

“When I’m walking across campus, I’m always looking for ways to help improve the university,” said Jarrod West, the SGA senator and sophomore undeclared major. “And, I see that those get used a lot… So, I thought that was a good way to make the university more green.”

West asked the university to make these changes in a SGA resolution, which passed March 24.

He hopes the water bottle filling purifications system will help cut down on the amount of plastic bottles used across campus, by offering a place to refill and reuse bottles.

He also hopes the addition of dual flush valves to toilets across campus will help conserve the amount of water the university uses.

NKU’s Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management Larry Blake worked with West in devising the resolution.

“This is a good idea,” Blake said. “But there is always a hesitation with the costs.”

The price to retrofit a water station to include one of these water bottle filling purification systems costs around $1,200, according to Blake, with the filters costing $400-$1,600 per station.

While Blake said he fully supports this latest SGA initiative, due to the relatively high fee, he said working toward this goal could be a somewhat slow and gradual process.

Blake said these new water bottle filling purification systems will be used on all water fountains that are replaced in the future, as deemed appropriate due to things such as usage and proximity to other fountains. Blake said that each water bottle filling station could save about 13,000-39,000 bottles from being thrown away annually.

As far as the dual flush valves for toilets are concerned, Blake explained that the university recently replaced their toilet plumbing systems in the past few years with a low flow system. Due to this, Blake said replacements with dual flush valves would be made on a case-by-case basis and would occur over a longer period of time.

However, Blake said that if NKU were to change all of the valves right now, the university could save a total of 20,000-30,000 gallons of water per year.

“Overall, for the university, the payback is the fact that we’re being more environmentally friendly here,” Blake said. “There is really no dollar payback here.”

Senior political science and economics major and Environmentally Concerned Organization of Students leader Lauren Gabbard thinks this is a great move for SGA.

“I think this is good for the university to direct their funds toward more sustainable practices,” Gabbard said. “I hope this enthusiasm and urge to be more sustainable is acted upon and doesn’t just die away.”

To West, it just came down to little things he see’s he has the ability to change on campus, as a SGA senator, to help better the university.

“As a university, I think you want to hold yourself to a higher standard,” West said. “It’s just a small thing we can do that can have a really big impact.”

The resolution passed unanimously at the March 24 SGA meeting. The next step for the resolution is to go through Faculty Senate.


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