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Walking Darwin's path: HHS grad heads to Ecuador for science course

Esther Susag graduated from HHS in 2012. This month she’s traveling to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands to study Charles Darwin’s theories. Submitted photo

Since Charles Darwin visited them in the 1830s, the Galapagos Islands have gained fame in scientific communities, and the largely untouched habitat has become a prime site for scientific research.

This month, a Hastings woman is making the trip to South America to take part in the scientific opportunity there. Esther Susag, a 2012 graduate of Hastings High School, leaves Jan. 4 for a three-week excursion in Ecuador and the islands.

Susag, who is in her sophomore year at the University of St. Thomas, discovered the opportunity to go to the Galapagos Islands about a year ago. She’s studying communications, journalism and public relations currently, but the college requires each student to take a lab science course regardless of their major. Susag had decided she wanted to do hers abroad.

Since she’s started college, Susag has developed an interest in health, nutrition and the body, she said, so when it came time to sign up for a science course, she knew she wanted to do something atypical. At first she was looking at going to Tahiti and the Australian islands, but when she was put on a wait list, she started looking at other opportunities. The Darwin trip was available, and she had heard her relatives talk about Darwin and his theories, so it seemed like it would be a great chance to learn more about Darwin, she said.

It seems like a lot of effort for a class that isn’t related to her major, but Susag is hoping the trip will help her decide if her new interest in science is something she wants to pursue over communications.

“I had already been indecisive about my major,” she said. “… I’m trying to see if maybe (the trip) will help me decide what I want to do.”

The trip will start in Quito, Ecuador, with walking tours filled with area history and the historical setting in which Darwin came up with his theories on evolutionary biology. From there, the group of 16 students will see Inti Nan, the equator museum; the Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest; a young active volcano and surrounding glaciers; and the Amazon basin. Then it’s off to the Galapagos Islands.

“We move every couple days, so we are literally always on the go,” Susag said.

Throughout the trip, she’ll be keeping a lab journal and will have to complete a project based on her studies.

Susag is excited for the trip. She hasn’t traveled much, she said, and this will be her first time traveling overseas. The only other country she’s visited was Canada, she said. “So this will be really, really exciting,” she said.

The animals are what she’s looking forward to seeing most.

“They just have so many creatures that we don’t have here, especially in Minnesota,” she said. “… I feel blessed that I get to experience all of this.”