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Godde to lead four students on research trip to Indonesia

Barry McNamara
John Cunningham, Shane Herkert, Brenna Lobb, James Godde and Emma Johanns get some practice for the Sumatran jungle while posing in the Kopinski Greenhouse in the Center for Science and Business.
MONMOUTH, Ill. – In May, James Godde will lead Monmouth College students abroad for the 12th time. The biology professor received a Freeman Foundation Student Faculty Fellowship to study deforestation in Sumatra, one of the five major islands in Indonesia.

“This is the second time I’ve received a Freeman grant,” said Godde, who explained that the grant originated with a request to the AsiaNetwork. “The last one was for Borneo, which is also part of Indonesia.”

Accompanying Godde will be four students: John Cunningham ’19, a biology major from Woodstock, Ill.; Shane Herkert ’20, a biology major from Verona, Wis.; Emma Johanns ’21, a biochemistry major from Burlington, Iowa; and Brenna Lobb ’19, a bioinformatics major from Heyworth, Ill.

“We’re leaving right after the last final exam on May 9,” said Godde. “We need to get there and get started. Then we’ll be back at the very end of May.”

During its three weeks abroad, the Monmouth group will study wildlife in Sumatra, comparing its presence in primary forest areas to the deforested areas.

“A few years ago, the rate of deforestation in Sumatra surpassed that of Brazilian Amazonia,” said Godde. “It’s a big problem there, but it’s not on the radar of most people here in America.”

The team will link up with a professor at Sumatra’s Riau University.

“He’s done surveys of the wildlife there,” said Godde. “We’re going to follow up on that. It would be nice to know what’s happening with that” and if new survey results show any differences.

Some of the larger wildlife species that Godde and the students might encounter include orangutans, Sumatran rhinoceroses and sun bears.

“We’d love to see some really big animals,” he said. “We’ll also see those weasel-like cats – civet cats – whose excrement (including partly digested coffee cherries) is said to produce the best coffee beans in the world.”

In addition to shorter trips like the upcoming experience in Sumatra, Godde has spent a semester abroad four times, including once with Monmouth students. A map in his office is full of pins representing places he’s visited, including student trips to the Galapagos Islands, Cuba and Peru.

“The more exotic, the better,” he said. “When I think about ‘Where am I going to go next,’ it’s generally remote and generally warm. I also look for places that will get students out of their comfort zone.”

In other words, not unlike determining the location for a season of the reality series Survivor.

“Those are definitely some of the same parameters as Survivor,” said Godde, who noted that three of the students proved their mettle during this year’s winter break trip to Guatemala, which included a 23-mile hike through heavy jungle.

The exception is Cunningham, who Godde said was an inspiration for the Sumatra trip.

“John was on our Isle Royale trip, which was a SOFIA (Summer Opportunity for Intellectual Activity) project his freshman year,” said Godde. “He did such an impressive job, and I’ve been hoping we could get a trip like this for him while he was still here. We’ve applied for the grant before, and we got it on our third try.”