Using a Curriculum Enrichment Grant to Support Primate Research in Kenya

Launched under the Georgetown Learning Initiative (GLI), curriculum enrichment/experiential learning grants (CEGs) support course-related activities that strengthen the intellectual climate. These grants were designed after “Call to Action: Curriculum and Learning at Georgetown”, which asked us to commit to enhancing the undergraduate learning culture by engaging all students. Consequently, these grants support course-related activities, speakers, and other experiential learning opportunities that deepen student understanding as well as expose them to diverse experiences and experts in the field of study. 

A Curriculum Enrichment Grant (CEG) helped support professor Angela van Doorn (Biology) in bringing eight students in her African Field Research in Conservation and Actionable (AFRICA) Teaching class to Diani Reef—a large 5-star resort in Diani Beach located in the southeast region of Kenya—to observe and study a protected species of primates native to the area. Students in her class participated in field research on the two-day trip, working in collaboration with the nonprofit Colobus Conservation whose mission is to conserve and protect endemic primates and their coastal forest habitat among villas, spas, and resorts along the coastline. 

One of van Doorn’s students and a researcher observing the endemic primates and their habitat.

Students engaged with the science and fieldwork behind their academic endeavors, having spent the previous semester studying science pedagogy and primate conservation education. Seeing a conservation organization at work brought to light how their learning in the classroom applies in practice.

Over the course of the trip, students were tasked with following a group of endemic primates from dawn to dusk to observe and understand their behaviors, and subsequently examine the effectiveness of mitigation efforts to reduce primate conflict with local hotels. In this course, students were immersed in primate behavioral ecology, field methods, and learned how collecting behavioral data on monkeys works in practice.

One student recounted her time with the monkeys in a blog post assignment for the course: 

“I had little idea of how intensive tracking an animals’ behavior can be! The days collecting data were broken down minute by minute: 5 minute data collection period, 15 minutes of pause from data collection—while still following the monkeys, repeating. The five minute data collection period was a whirlwind of keen, fast observations and deft recording! With the aid of a form on a mobile phone, the Colobus researchers would record every monkey in the area visible during those five minutes. For each monkey observed, their species, age, active behavior, and general location on the resort premises was recorded.”

Her research, as well as that of other students in the program, could be used in substantiating primate conflict mitigation in this area, preserving the habitats and wellbeing of this species. In other words, the field experience offered students a rich, fruitful opportunity to grow as researchers by doing research

Photo taken by one of van Doorn’s students in the AFRICA Teaching class.

Here’s van Doorn’s student again, reflecting on the trip: 

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to have worked with Colobus at Diani Reef. I could go on and on about what the experience taught me personally; but more importantly, their data will teach us all so much more about primate behavior in human populated areas like the Diani Reef Resort. From Colobus’ efforts here, we can learn how to structure environments that promote a positive way of life for both monkeys and humans.”

First and foremost, van Doorn said students were able to gain meaningful hands-on experience as a result of working directly with a conservation organization. She also said “the process to apply was very easy and I would (and have) recommend(ed) it to my colleagues.” 


Just this semester, Fall 2022, our CEGs have supported over 20 courses. Learn more and apply for a Curriculum Enrichment Grant on our website.