Study of Belize Plant Life Comes Full Circle in Family of Two WIU Alumni
June 7, 2013
MACOMB, IL – A Springfield couple, who met at Western Illinois University in the 1970s, share a research interest that includes the University's herbarium plant collection.
Dave Jansen and Dorothy Fisher met during graduate school at WIU – Dorothy graduating with a bachelor's degree in German in 1975 and a master's degree in biology in 1979 and Dave graduating in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in biology.
Dave also worked on a master's degree in botany and was a teaching assistant in general biology.
Dave studied with Joseph Ives, a former WIU plant ecologist, and Dorothy studied with Larry O'Flaherty, a WIU botany professor who studied algae.
As part of a master's project, Dave traveled to Belize, Central America in 1977 to collect plant specimens. The collection of plants Dave returned to Western with is part of the University's herbarium, located in Waggoner Hall.
After leaving WIU, Dave worked as a field inspector for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in Springfield. In total, Dave has worked for the IEPA for 34 years, most recently as manager of the Bureau of Land, Central Region, Field Operations.
After raising three children, none of whom are biologists, Dorothy worked in a variety of science-related positions, including in the laboratories of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, tutoring in the Americorps Project and most recently taking a class at Lincoln Land Community College in tropical studies.
The research for the 2009 Lincoln Land class, which was taught by 1997 WIU alumnus David Cox, included a one-week trip to Belize for field study. Cox is also the director of the Sibun Education and Adventure Lodge in Belize.
"The field class was designed for students to see the spectrum of tropical terrestrial and coastal habitats of Belize in a week's time," she said. "We visited the jungle, a baboon sanctuary, a butterfly sanctuary, snorkeled off the coast, visited Myan ruins and lived in huts."
Since that trip, Dorothy has been working with Cox and the college to play a role in the program's study of plants. It was that work that led Dorothy back to Western this week, with the help of herbarium curator Professor Eric Ribbens, to look at her husband's collection of plants from the 1970s.
"There is the possibility of later joining other research trips as a co-instructor or leading a group of my own," Dorothy said. "So I wanted to look at the collection and see how extensive it is."
The community college's Belize program was established in 2007, and since then, 35 educators, 20 colleges and hundreds of students have participated. The program has included six years of continuous research about stream ecology, five years of orchid conservation and related programs being established at three other schools.
Ribbens said the Jansen portion of the WIU collection contains about 90 specimens. He added that WIU's herbarium is the sixth largest in Illinois, containing about 75,000 specimens.
"I wanted to see what condition David Jansen's specimens were in and how many there were," Dorothy said. "The collection is a lot larger than I thought. Dr. Ribbens has done a great job of bringing things up to date so it is easier to pick things out of the cabinets."
Ribbens has been curator of the WIU collection since 2002 and is working to complete a database of all of the items it contains. He also made arrangements for the Jansen collection to be photographed.
The WIU R.M. Myers Herbarium started in 1945 under the direction of retired botany department chair R. Maurice Myers, but contains specimens that date back to the 1860s. Ribbens said the University will soon have a virtual herbarium, with the WIU collection available online.
For more information about WIU's herbarium or to visit or volunteer with the site, visit Ribbens at E-Ribbens@wiu.edu or go to wiu.edu/users/mfer1/MWI.html. Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and more about his work can be found at llcc.edu/Default.aspx?tabid=3519.