photo of Rebecca Shapley '97

Sharing "a little bit of Bryn Mawr"

Technology can be a great tool for teaching the public about science, says Rebecca Shapley '97-especially when it involves more than "just clicking buttons."

Shapley is a tropical ecologist with Akodon Ecological Consulting, which she and her spouse, fellow scientist Adrian, own and operate. Since her Bryn Mawr graduation, Akodon has conducted mammal surveys with an eye toward conservation in Guyana, Belize and Brazil. And by sharing the latest technology with park officials there, Akodon "engenders a care-taking approach" to conservation.

In Brazil's Jau National Park last year, Akodon used ultrasonic microphones to collect voiceprints of several different species of bats. "You don't have to catch the bats or interfere with their normal activities to know that they're there," explains Shapley. Akodon will be using the data to develop a method for conducting regular bat population surveys that can be handed over to park officials.

On future expeditions, Shapley would like to establish relationships with American classrooms, allowing schoolchildren to monitor the work that Akodon does abroad via digital photographs, video, and live chat rooms. "It would give them a sense of how wonderful it is that you can learn about new stuff that's right here on earth," she says. "You don't have to go to space to learn about stuff that is new to science. And, it would give them an idea of what it's like to do research."

Shapley is familiar with technology's potential applications in classrooms, thanks to her day job as an interactive media programmer at Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science. The Hall develops educational science curriculums for schools; her department "takes the interactive, hands-on tradition of science curriculum at the Hall and extends it" into technology, providing opportunities for learning where books and labs do not. For example, the "foodweb" that her group recently designed features different "ecoscenarios" demonstrating how specific animals, plants and humans are interrelated. Children connect different organisms and receive immediate information that helps them shape a possible food chain in that ecosystem. Another project-an astronomy CD-ROM for after-school programs-takes young users on a space adventure, where every correct answer helps them build their own virtual telescope.

Shapley recalls her Bryn Mawr experience as a "wonderful combination of freedom through high standards." In the work she does now as both an ecological consultant and a computer programmer, she seeks "that cross-disciplinary filter of ideas, creating that little bit of Bryn Mawr for myself, and using it as fuel to go forward and take off like a rocket. Pooling ideas from different disciplines, mulling them over, thinking over them-that's the fun part of life."

And that is an attitude she is eager to pass on.

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