"The most challenging part of being a graduate student is stepping out of the classroom, where everything feels clear-cut and drawn out for you, and into the real world, where there is no prescribed blueprint to follow."

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For her sixth birthday, Vanessa Hull's '04 parents gave her a stuffed panda, leading to a life-long fascination with the gentle giants."What interested me most was their plight for survival as an endangered species and the challenges in protecting their habitat in a human-dominated landscape," says Hull.

Hull is continuing her education at Michigan State University, where she travels to China to study giant pandas and their habitat at theWolong Nature Reserve.

She and her colleagues are attempting to trap and collar endangered giant pandas using baited cages in an effort to better understand the animals' environmental needs and preferences. The low density of pandas in the region makes it difficult to pursue the more successful method of arming scientists with dart guns to anesthetize them.

Graduate field studies are often challenging, as Hull's experiences illustrate. The 500,000-acre reserve, located in the Sichuan province, was rocked by a powerful earthquake in May 2008. The quake killed an estimated 70,000 people, and even the reserve was affected.

"The earthquake has had a profound impact on the people living inWolong Nature Reserve. Some people lost relatives and friends in the disaster, and most people's homes and property were either completely destroyed or are in need of significant repair work. The road into the reserve was cut off for months so an entire season's worth of farming went to waste when crops could not be sold out," Hull reports.

"The most challenging part of being a graduate student is stepping out of the classroom, where everything feels clear-cut and drawn out for you, and into the real world, where there is no prescribed blueprint to follow," she says. But Hull believes her experiences at Bucknell have prepared her for any challenges.

When not traveling the globe, Hull and her husband, Masa, a fellow graduate student, live in East Lansing, Mich.

Posted Summer 2009

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