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Two UT seniors are heading to Ecuador this week to help preserve the environment and assist the local people.

Erin Anzalone, a studio art major from Franklin, and her boyfriend, Ian Ware, an ecology and evolutionary biology major from Collierville, have found a way to travel and spend the summer together — while at the same time doing academic research and volunteer work.

Each won a $2,000 undergraduate summer research grant from UT’s Office of Research, and they also hooked up with a volunteer program called Global Volunteer Network.

“We will be in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands from June 2 until July 9,” Anzalone said. “As volunteers, we will be helping replant local species of plants while removing the invasive species. We also will help with construction projects on the reserve we are staying at in San Cristobal, the capital of the islands. We also will be helping local farmers with bettering irrigation systems so farmers on the islands can plant more crops instead of having to import so much.”

The research grants will allow Anzalone to hone her photography skills while Ware studies invasive species.

Anzalone’s faculty mentor is Baldwin Lee, a photography professor; Ware’s faculty mentor is Jen Schweitzer, assistant professor of ecology.

“Because we were traveling to the same spot as a team, we knew we needed to make a compelling argument to the grant committee about why we needed each other to accomplish the work we had in mind,” Anzalone said. “We told them we wanted to bring the disciplines of art and science together. The two areas seem miles apart, and science students and art students seldom get to work together. We wanted to change that.”

Ware has a long list of questions he wants to answer about invasive species that are affecting the islands’ ecosystem. Among those: Do organisms interact more with the invasive species than local plants? How do people interact with the ecosystem? Are tourists bringing different seeds from various countries to the islands? How do the Galapagos people use and live off the land compared to us? Are invasive species more plentiful on the more visited islands?

Meanwhile, Anzalone will be by his side with camera in hand.

“I will experiment with my camera, lenses and light to capture the flora and fauna of the islands. I will photograph everything I can from the animals, to the leaves, farmers, etc.,” she said. “I want to visually document the work we are doing. I will be photographing at all times of the day, and plan on doing a lot of night work too.”

In September, Anzalone’s photographs will be displayed at 8 Shooters Studio in downtown Knoxville during a First Friday celebration.

Anzalone also is going to keep on online journal during the trip.

“The reason we decided to keep a blog is because we want students at UT to know of the possibilities,” she said. “We want to inspire students to set a goal, and although it can take a lot of work to get everything set up, it is worth it!”

Although they’re working in Ecuador, the duo hopes that blogging about their environmental efforts will prompt other UT students to think about what they can do right here at home.

“Hopefully we’ll inspire them to keep Knoxville more clean,” she said.

To read the couple’s blog, see