A ‘Major’ Deal

Osprey LandingWhen Cameron Sapp cradled an osprey in his arms so that a blood sample could be drawn to test for mercury, he remembered how he grew up not really liking birds, but “I’ve never been one to like anything until I experience it on my own.”

The day he held the osprey he realized not only did he now like birds, but this was the highlight of his college year, “possibly of my college experience.”

Sapp took advantage of an opportunity to join RMC’s Yellowstone River Research Center in the osprey study, a way to determine not only the health of the raptors, but of the river as well.

“I consider this osprey research project to be my most significant achievement while at Rocky Mountain College. To be a research assistant on a project of this magnitude as an undergrad is a major deal in my opinion,” he said.

Majoring in environmental science-ecology option and environmental management and policy, he has been inspired by his professors.

“Kayhan Ostovar, Lucas Ward, and Jennifer Lyman (professors in environmental studies) have all, hands down, had a major impact on my college experience. I would not be where I am today without their guidance and expertise,” he noted.

The day with the ospreys was the culmination of a project he had worked on for nearly a year.

“I would have to say that the best opportunities RMC offers are real-life experiences. Some of my classes have never moved beyond the hypothetical. Others have allowed me to actually get out into the real world. Through the environmental science department I have done things from range inventories in the Pryor Mountains to bobcat surveys near Molt, Montana. I firmly believe that the hands-on experience I received is invaluable,” he said.

Marco Restani, a St. Cloud University professor who spends summers in Red Lodge, Montana, is also a master bird bander, so Sapp learned from one of the experts in handling wild birds.

“I held an osprey chick while he drew blood and banded it. How cool is that?” he said. “This is huge for me.”

The blood is analyzed to see if it contains mercury from a diet of local fish the chicks’ parents bring to them to eat. Sapp checked 62 nests along the Yellowstone. The study, from Gardiner to Forsyth, is designed to see if any have high levels of mercury, which can disrupt reproduction and young birds’ health.

Participating in the osprey project is one of the reasons Sapp chose RMC: small class sizes with the chance to interact closely with professors.

“I didn’t want to go to a school where the professor may ever even know my name. At Rocky, professors I had for one semester my freshman year still remember my name now even after my fourth year,” he said.

With plans to graduate this December, Sapp plans on graduate school with a desire to become a wildlife biologist.

His advice to other students is simple.

“Take advantage of every opportunity you see, and if you don’t see one, make one,” he said.

While at RMC there is a short window to draw on the experience and knowledge of professors, he noted.

“I say short window because I feel like I was just graduating high school and now I’m almost done. I have the extreme pleasure of being able to wake up excited to go to class. I don’t ever want to wake up and not be excited to go to work or school.”