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Released September 4, 2002
MUW alumna wins education award and trip of a lifetime to South Africa
COLUMBUS, Miss. -- Mississippi University for Women alumna Dawn Weed Ausbon of Aberdeen recently won an Earthwatch Institute Education Award to be a member of a scientific expedition team in South Africa to study endangered penguins.
"The whole trip was an amazing experience," Ausbon said. "It dramatically changed my perspective on South Africa. I guess the best part of the experience was being able to travel abroad and the expectation of what was to come."
Made possible by a grant from the Rosenbaum Mississippi Fellows Programthrough the Phil Harden Foundation, Ausbon spent two weeks during July with a scientific expedition team rescuing and monitoring South African penguins that were affected by an oil spill during a June 2000 shipwreck off the coast of Robben Island, South Africa.
During the oil spill, nearly half of all South African penguins were in the peak of breeding season. Approximately 19,000 penguins were "oiled" and thousands of chicks perished. Following the oil spill, rescuers were able to rehabilitate most of the injured birds and evacuated many others.
In addition to monitoring the birds, which are also in danger from fisheries and fur seals that interrupt the breeding process, Ausbon's team tested a new plastic tag to track and monitor the marine birds.
Among her group, which included two lead scientists, a lighting director from Hollywood, a teenager from Canada and a biologist from Germany, Ausbon was the only volunteer who was able to catch and band a penguin.
"That was quite an experience," she said. "This penguin was pretty vicious, probably because it was guarding its chicks. The lead scientist said we needed to catch it and asked if I wanted to do it, and I said 'yes.' It was pretty amazing."
After they rescued the penguins, they were taken to the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds where they were cleaned, treated, charted, banded and then released.
Earthwatch Institute, an international non-profit organization, supports scientific field research worldwide by offering members of the public unique opportunities to work alongside leading field scientists and researchers. This organization offers 300 expedition fellowships to teachers and students yearly.
A 1991 and 1994 graduate of The W with a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in gifted studies, Ausbon is a National Board certified more gifted teacher at Nettleton Elementary School.
Other honors she has recently received include being named to Who's Who Among America's Teachers and being selected to a group of 130 teachers out of 16,045 National Board certified teachers to attend a conference this month in Cincinnati to discuss "Teaching America About Accomplished Teaching."
"There is an endless amount of ways I can use this experience in my classroom," Ausbon said. "I can talk about world relations, geography and many more topics."
Ausbon said that she is deeply grateful to The W for preparing her for this experience and for her career as an elementary school teacher.
"I was the first member of my family of my generation or earlier to finish high school, much less get a college degree," she said. "The W was perfect for me because of the one-on-one interaction with the professors.
"When I felt like I wasn't sure if I could continue, Dr. Suzanne Bean, Dr. Bob Seney and Dr. Mary Alice Mize would tell me that I had something to offer and to not give up now. They taught me I could do anything if I put my mind to it."
MUW will offer an environmental studies course in the fall that will focus on issues similar to the one Ausbon studied while in South Africa. For more information about this course or any of the courses offered at The W, please contact the Office of Admissions at (662) 329-7106.
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