Born in Lima, Peru, Lily Arias says bats are what brought her to Indiana. Not the baseball kind, but the nocturnal mammals.
“I am interested in bat ecology and conservation so this place — the Center for Bat Research, Outreach and Conservation at Indiana State — was perfect to continue my studies and to do research,” she said.
Ever since she was a child, Arias says, she has loved animals and the environment. “So I guess I was on my way to being a biologist since an early age.”
Arias was honored Nov. 17 at an Orlando conference with the prestigious Digital Learning Innovation Award by the Online Learning Consortium through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Arias was chosen because of her efforts to increase student engagement in online biology classes.
“One of the main challenges faced by instructors of online biology classes is the lack of student engagement,” Arias said. “Since students do not get to perform hands-on experiments or science-related activities, many get easily bored or overwhelmed with scientific terminology and facts that they feel do not have any use in their daily lives.”
That problem was partially solved by offering the online class through Junction Biology, a platform that takes into account the diverse student learning styles and provides material in diverse ways.
“This award represents recognition of my hard work and encourages me to keep working hard to improve the way I offer my classes with the goal of increasing academic performance and student engagement,” Arias said.
Back in the fall of 2008 when Arias first arrived at Indiana State as a biology major, she had no idea such recognition would be in her future.
Going from the large bustling coastal city of Lima to the relatively peaceful, four-season city of Terre Haute was quite an education, Arias said.
“There are big differences between my hometown Lima and Terre Haute. Lima has a population of eight million people, so Terre Haute was a very calm, quiet place to live and study,” she said. “Lima is a coastal city, the weather is relatively mild, temperatures range from 57 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and 84 degrees Fahrenheit in summer … I have climbed some mountains in the Peruvian Andes so I had seen snow a few years before coming to the U.S. but I had to buy some extra winter clothes because winter in Indiana is much colder.”
Since Spanish is the most common language in her native country, Arias said she also received much more practice speaking English when she arrived in Indiana. “In Terre Haute the Hispanic population is not very large, so I did not have the chance to speak Spanish very often, which improved my English-speaking skills.”
The friends she made and the professors she met at Indiana State played a big part in making her feel welcome, Arias said. “All my professors at ISU were absolutely great. However, I would like to mention Dr. Peter Scott, Dr. Steve Lima and Dr. John Whitaker.
They were very passionate about their research and were always available to talk and give me advice about classes, job searching and really anything.”
Many of the examples and activities that her professors used during their classes at State, Arias said she now uses with her students. “Dr. Peter Scott was one of my supervisors when I was a graduate teaching assistant. He is a great example of what I aspire to be as a faculty, an excellent teacher and researcher that always has time to answer students’ questions.”
Among her favorite memories at the Terre Haute campus were field trips to study ornithology and plant taxonomy. “It was great to go outdoors and get to see and identify birds and plants,” she said.
A highlight of each year, Arias said, was the annual bat festival hosted by the Center for Bat Research, Outreach and Conservation. “I volunteered there every year. It was great to talk about bats with the Terre Haute community, especially with the kids.”
After leaving State almost three years ago, Arias became an adjunct professor at Temple University in Pennsylvania and at State University of New York at Old Westbury, N.Y. For the past two and a half years, Arias has been a visiting professor at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss.
“I teach both lecture and lab for ecology and evolution, general biology II, comparative vertebrate anatomy, plant biology and online classes for non-majors,” she said. “Recently, I have been involved in projects aimed to involve undergraduate students in research, such as an assessment of trees and birds on campus and a campus-wide recycling project.”
Looking back on her journey from Peru to Indiana, Arias credits her parents with encouraging her desire to broaden her world and reach for the stars. “My father got his education through the Peruvian Navy and is now retired. My mother did not attend college,” she said.
Although her parents were worried about their daughter going away so far from home, “at the same time they were happy I was getting an education and enjoying my life abroad,” Arias said. “My parents always encourage me to work hard to achieve my goals. Most of my personal and professional accomplishments are inspired by them.”