TIES Argentina

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is developing an innovative program in immersive experiential learning known as Thematic Interdisciplinary Experiential Semester (TIES). The program seeks to provide participants with a truly transformative experience in a rigorous, challenging, interdisciplinary, project-based program designed to examine a central theme from a variety of scientific, cultural, economic and political perspectives. TIES Argentina is a pilot program launched in Spring 2011 involving a collaborative interdisciplinary effort by faculty in biology, economics, geology and Latin American studies focusing on the natural and cultural setting of Mendoza, Argentina. This pilot program involves a vibrant living-learning community of 17 students selected from across disciplines and across age groups. Courses are designed in 3.5 week concentrated blocks for project-based inquiry, with dedicated overlap between the blocks to provide interdisciplinary linkages.
This blog will chronicle the adventures, learning experiences and trials and tribulations of the participants in TIES Argentina. We will try to update on a weekly basis, and welcome your feedback and suggestions.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Buenos Aires Economics Trip

The economics portion of the TIES program began last week. Much of the week was spent studying and analyzing the different perspectives that are used when gauging and transforming economic development.  There will be a number of guest speakers throughout the economics course.  Valentine Maqueda, a political science student at the University of Cuyo, came and spoke on the structure and history of the government of Argentina.

 Thursday evening, we embarked on a 15 hour bus trip to the great port of Buenos Aires.  Upon arrival, were granted a tour of the Los Pibes community center in La Boca, one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the economic crash of 2001. The center is a private organization that was founded to assist the poorest members of the community with educational opportunities, vocational training and food assistance.   Conditions in the neighborhood have been steadily improving, but the center still feels about 200 families a day through direct meals and home support. 

Valentin translating during a tour of the textile facility at Los Pibes
Following lunch at Los Pibes, we then took a tour of Buenos Aires, including both the old and new areas.  We started in La Boca, the first port of Buenos Aires, which was built by Italian immigrants that worked in the warehouses and meatpacking plants.  The neighborhood was transformed by the artist Benito Quinquela Marti, who convinced his neighbors to liven up the neighborhood with festive colors, making it one of the most famous neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. 

The center of the city hosts an impressive array of colonial architecture, including the Casa Rosado, the historic presidential residence, where many famous political speeches have been given, including Eva Peron’s famous Cabildo Abierto  dialogue with the people in 1951. The adjacent Plaza de Mayo is an icon of political activism in the nation of Argentina.  This is the home of the “Mothers of Plaza Mayo” which march around the plaza every Tuesday, seeking to know what happened to the children that disappeared in the Dirty War.

Casa Rosado, with the central balcony made famous by the Perons

Plaza de Mayo, with the famous protests signs seeking information on the "Disappeared Ones"

 The last part of the tour was to Palermo and Recolleta, where we say the Floralis Generica, a sculpture donated by architect Eduardo Catalano.  The pedals of the flower open in the morning and close in the evening.  Our final stop of the day was La Recoleta Cemetery, which is a cemetery for the wealthy and the revolutionary heroes.  Eva Peron, the first lady of Juan Peron and Julio Roca are among the dignitaries in the cemetery.

TIES crew touring the famous Recoleta cemetary

Floralis Generica

The following day was ushered in with a tour of the Teatro Colón.  Built in the late 19th century and into the 20th century, this theater is decorated in French and German styles. The theater recently went through a restoration process that took five years and 3,000 workers to perform.  The only flaw in the theater is that the acoustics are perfect because if someone hits a wrong note, everyone know it.  In the afternoon, we were able to choose any of the several museums to attend for the afternoon.  The most common choices of attendance were the MALBA, National Fine Arts Museum, and the Evita Peron museum.

Courtney dazzling the red carpet of Teatro Colon
The evening ended with a tango show, including lessons and a dinner show.  Tango has its roots in Argentina, and has a circular history whereby the tango rose through the social classes in Europe after migrating from the immigrant slums of Buenos Aires, where it was based on the hard times of trying to find work and make ends meet as an immigrant in the port.  The tango became an important symbol in Argentina after gaining immense popularity in Europe.

Alisha and Tom demonstrating the focus needed for the Tango












Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lavalle Desert Biology

     Our final week of biology involved a three-day excursion in Lavalle.  On Monday we went to CONICET, the Argentine national research organization, to meet with Drs. Julieta Aranibar, Florencia Campon and Susana Lagos. Julieta presented her studies on the root structure of mesquite forests and how they gather water in desert environments,  Florencia talked about insects in the Mendoza region, and Susana presented information about arachnids and scorpions and their defining characteristics. 

     The next day we left for Lavalle, a desert region in the north of Mendoza province. We set up camp at a puesto/restaurant where we would stay for the next two nights.   

TIES crew at the Lavalle puesta
  Our first activity we divided into groups and looked for ant colonies. For each colony we found we marked the ants with pink nail polish to collect later as a population estimation method. 
Alex collecting insect specimens in the Lavalle desert
  Afterwards we gathered and had a group discussion with Julieta, Florencia and Susana concerning women in natural sciences.  That night Olga the owner prepared two goats for dinner. After we feasted we observed insects under a spot light outside in the dark.  We categorized the insects into genus nomenclature.

Excellent specimen of a walking stick found during our investigation
The next morning, we awoke early and drove to a mesquite forest. Julieta gave us instructions to measure a transect of 100m and we collected data on plant species and returned to the puesto.  That afternoon Todd Wellnitz gave an informal lecture on the intermediate diversity hypothesis followed by a discussion with Julieta , Florencia, and Suzanna on the differences in  higher education between the United States and Argentina.   

Brandon discussing academic issues with CONICET researchers
  Afterwards we split into groups and collected insects from two different terrains to decide where we would be doing our scorpion hunt later that night.  After a hearty meal of empanadas we set out at night to hunt for scorpions.   Because of a prehistoric evolutionary trait designed to protect them from excess UV radiation, scorpions contain a protein that reflects UV light, which causes them to glow in the dark when illuminated by UV light. We collected over 15 scorpions that night.

Glowing scorpion found in the dark of night, Lavalle

Scorpion death grip, Lavalle desert

Our final day we measured out another transect of 100m and collected data on plant species but in the sand dunes. Then we put out ant traps with two different baits. One consisted of commercial birdseed and the other of tuna. We did this in order to understand their eating habits. 
     We returned to Mendoza that afternoon to finish our final research projects for biology. On Friday, we completed our three weeks of Biology with an open discussion connecting what we'd learned over the three weeks and then presenting our final projects to the group.



Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Uspallata Ecology

As biology continued into its second of three weeks, we got down to the nitty-gritty and had an introduction to biology and statistical analysis so we could infer patterns and relationships in the data we collected on our horseback trip.

Todd Wellnitz leading the TIES crew in a Biology discussion at the hostel
            The next day was an introduction to what the next study would involve with two native Argentine researchers, Erica Scheibler and Paulo Lambias.  They gave us the information we needed for data collection and explained what we would be looking for in Uspallata.  Erica’s research in the Andes is heavily dependent on streams and, for our research purposes, diversity.  Paulo is currently working on his Ph.D. with his research on monogamy in the South American sedge wren.
In Ithaca, New York, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, Paolo is doing a lot of research with these birds to understand different lifestyles and processes of these birds based on their environments.   The sedge wren has an interesting way of building their nests, as the female, aided by the male, often builds more than one nest in the tall Pampas grass.  There are many possible reasons for this, including avoiding predation, creating distractions, or allowing the males of the species to practice polygamy. 
When we arrived at the Uspallata region, we were divided into four groups.  Two groups went with Paolo to a field full of Pampas grass (often taller than us!), even though this is not the mating season for the wrens.  The groups in the fields were to measure the Pampas grass sections by using cups to represent wrens’ nests.  We measured the height of the grass, density of the plant, and the concealment it provided the nest.

Brandon and Alicia measuring the height of the Pampas grass

 The other two groups stayed with Erica and Dr. Wellnitz to collect samples from the stream nearby and then record diversity data of the aquatic organisms they collected. 

Alex and Erica gathering samples from RIo Uspallata near our campground

Frank collecting stream ecology samples


The night ended for everyone with a campfire and dinner at our campground.  Around the campfire Dr. Wellnitz, with the help of Paolo and Erica, taught us about the evolution of species.

The second day, the stream groups went into the field and the field groups went to the stream.  The new stream team sampled different streams than the group.  One group went about 30 kilometers north of Uspallata to collect data from a stream near Tambillos. 

Kelsey and Kris collecting stream data near Tambillos
These transects provided three different locales to evaluate the diversity of streams.  We measured this the same way as the first group at the other stream did.  This was done by holding a net in slow, medium, and fast stream water, and disturbing the ground - catching everything that got picked up by the current.  We did this for five minutes, measuring velocity by timing how long an object took to float five meters. 

When the groups met at the end of the field studies, we headed back to Mendoza to put everything together.  The sedge wren groups looked for patterns in their data, while the stream stream collected all of their critters from their samples. 

Dan and DJ collecting stream ecology data

The next morning, Paulo gave a lecture to answer questions about the information we gathered from the wren’s nests.  This was followed by a short lecture from Dr. Wellnitz and time to work on our group projects.