From Maine to Montana: SBE Student Dylan Cole’s Summer Experience

You don’t know until you try, right? Students in the School of Biology & Ecology are encouraged to go beyond the confines of a classroom in order to gain hands on experience in their chosen field. The importance of field experience often gets put on the bottom shelf during busy academic years, but the summer months are the perfect time for students to get some field experience under their belts. That is precisely what SBE student, Dylan Cole, did this past summer.

Dylan Cole in the mountains of Montana

In search of a summer job allowing him to enjoy the outdoors and gain hands-on field experience in Ecology, Cole sent out emails to a variety of Universities around the country.  Upon receiving a job offer at Montana State University, he jumped at the opportunity. Cole spent his summer following the destructive paths of wildfires in the breathtaking mountains of Montana, assisting a graduate student who studies the succession of wildflowers, and their pollinators, after a wildfire wrecks havoc on their enivoronment.

“I hadn’t actually taken an ecology course, and all the research I did this summer was ecological research, “said Cole.  “I learned a lot about ecology… I’m in wildlife ecology now, and there is a lot of things coming up in class that I learned unofficially this summer.”

According to National Geographic, on average, more than 100,000 wildfires clear four million to five million acres of land in the U.S. every year.  A wildfire moves at speeds up to 14 miles an hour, consuming everything in its path.  Although often harmful and destructive to humans, naturally occurring wildfires play a key role in certain ecosystems by enabling the return of nutrients to the soil, disinfecting plants containing pathogens and harmful insects, and allowing sunlight to nurture new generations of seedlings that were otherwise covered.

Photo Credit: Dylan Cole

Cole lived in the city of Bozeman on the weekends, but from Monday to Friday he was camping in the mountains, just east of Paradise Valley.  Some of Cole’s responsibilities during the week included visiting GPS points on a map in order to collect samples of pollinators and record wildflower species that these pollinators were visiting.  Samples were taken from sites where a wildfire had occurred one to two years prior.   All the data was compiled into a computer model that the team will decipher, in order to draw conclusions and make plans for future research.

Cole is currently in his junior year at the University of Maine, studying Biology with his sights on graduate school.  Though he doesn’t know exactly what he wants to study after college, Cole is taking his education into his own hands by exploring different fields within biology.  We wish him the best of luck as he completes his undergraduate degree!