Life in Galapagos

A lesson in evolution

Professor Robert Rothman led the group, above, on a nearly two-week tour of the islands.

For RIT students Brenna De Angelis and Solan Sooriakumar, visiting the Galapagos Islands was a chance of a lifetime and the perfect ending to their class, Galapagos: Evolution and Ecology, taught last spring by Robert Rothman, professor in RIT’s Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences.

Rothman led students, faculty and staff, from May 26 to June 7, on the land-based tour of the Pacific Archipelago located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The islands inspired Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and his theory of natural selection or survival of the fittest. The flora, fauna and geology of the Galapagos illustrated concepts from Rothman’s class.

“Every island is like its own world, with different species of plants and animals unique to just that island,” said De Angelis, a biology major from Spencerport, N.Y. “The islands are a lot farther apart than I had originally thought, with hours of speed-boat travel in between the major islands.”

Students Solan Sooriakumar, left, and Wm. Blake Sullivan pause to take photos of Santa Fe Island wildlife refuge.

Sooriakumar, an environmental science major from Brighton, N.Y., was struck by the chance to swim side-by-side with a marine iguana and to stand over the fumaroles of Volcano Chico. He had the opportunity to examine the skull and jaw structure of a marine iguana skeleton found on the Island of Isabela and was “in complete awe.”

“I knew what to expect getting there since we went over what we would experience in class, but none of what we learned really prepared me for the real thing,” Sooriakumar said.
The tour drew students, hearing and deaf, from across campus and from a variety of majors including computer science, bioinformatics, game design and development, and new media interactive development.

The group poses near Quito, one day before heading to the Islands.

The trip to the Galapagos Islands filled up within a week and a half. The upcoming January trip sold out quickly, too, leaving Rothman overwhelmed by the response to the tours he once struggled to fill.

“Two different years I couldn’t get a group at all,” Rothman said. “In 2009, I nearly canceled. We ended up having to share the yacht with four other outside people.”

He attributes the difference to a change in attitude at RIT about study abroad.

Bioinformatics student Connor Fortin and a blue-footed booby on the island of Isabela.

“In the last two years of the trip, RIT was starting to develop a study abroad infrastructure,” Rothman said. “During this gap, study abroad has become much more center stage. And I think it’s something that students are looking for when choosing a college. It’s completely changed.”

For information about future trips to the Galapagos Islands, contact Rothman at rhrsbi@rit.edu.