August 07, 2014 | Matt Kucinski

Thuy-Nhi Nguyen
Year: Senior
Major: biology
Hometown: Caledonia, Michigan

Where are you?

Au Sable Institute in Mancelona, MI

Why are you there?

I am doing research through Calvin College with Darren Proppe and two other students on the team, Leanna DeJong and Sammy Cowell.

What's your typical day look like?

During the first couple weeks of doing research here, me and another fellow researcher (Leanna or Sammy) start our day off at 5 a.m. We drive out to one of our sites and do point counts (it’s when we stand in a spot for five minutes and try to identify/record as many birds as we can through sight and sound). We do this from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then head back to campus for lunch. In the afternoon, we work on bird analysis on the computer. Recently, we have started to band birds and have gotten the opportunity to work hands on with our six target species!

What are you doing?

I am doing research with Darren Proppe looking at bird communication and behavior, specifically whether conspecific song playback increases establishment rates for six species of songbirds in Northern Michigan. Leanna DeJong from Calvin College and Sammy Cowell from Azusa Pacific University are also on the bird team with Janene Nesbit and Neil Gilbert as volunteers.

How has Calvin prepared you for this?

The biology department at Calvin has prepared me a lot, especially the ecology courses and research class. The research preparation and courses have prepared me for the research that I am doing here at Au Sable. Calvin has prepared me for the lab work, ecological sampling and topics in conservation that are also taught here at Au Sable Institute.

What has surprised you so far?

It is absolutely beautiful up here. I have gotten the opportunity to visit places like Sleeping Bear Dunes to Manistee Lake along with other state parks. I have truly gotten to appreciate God’s creation. Also, I’ve gotten to see a lot of wild animals like baby fox, baby owls/birds, and fawns up close! Getting to fully immerse myself in nature is something I never would have thought I would get the chance to do, so I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to come up to Au Sable. Making life-long friends, experiencing great things and getting college credit all at the same time isn’t so bad. 

How do you see this experience shaping your future?

Since I am a biology major, my focus is more medicine related not environmental studies. So being here at Au Sable has really changed my outlook on nature and the environment. First of all, I will never look at birds the same way again. Before doing this research, birds were nothing noticeable. Now, I am able to identify them by sound and sight and I appreciate the beauty and diversity that birds display. Being with others who are even more passionate about the earth has definitely influenced me to care more about the earth as well through being a good steward. Also, since this is my first time actually doing research, the research preparation and courses have prepared me to be a more successful student and researcher.

Best food you've eaten?

The food at Au Sable Institute is all homemade and delicious. The main chef tries to cook foods from different cultures, so it’s always something new and tasty every time. I can’t really choose which is my favorite because it’s all been pretty good. If I had to choose though, it would have to be any of the rice dishes for sure!

Best picture you've taken?

On one of our point counts, Leanna, Janene and I got to see a baby Barred owl sitting in a tree. It wasn’t able to fly yet, so we were able to see it really close. The mother was flying nearby and calling. So naturally, we got a selfie with it!

Met anybody memorable?

Au Sable has classes going on during the summer here so there have been students from all over the country coming in. I’ve had the pleasure of making new friends and building lasting relationships with many different people. I’ve never been in a place with so many people with a greater passion than me in a similar field.

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