TIES Argentina

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is developing an innovative program in immersive experiential learning known as Thematic Interdisciplinary Experiential Semester (TIES). The program seeks to provide participants with a truly transformative experience in a rigorous, challenging, interdisciplinary, project-based program designed to examine a central theme from a variety of scientific, cultural, economic and political perspectives. TIES Argentina is a pilot program launched in Spring 2011 involving a collaborative interdisciplinary effort by faculty in biology, economics, geology and Latin American studies focusing on the natural and cultural setting of Mendoza, Argentina. This pilot program involves a vibrant living-learning community of 17 students selected from across disciplines and across age groups. Courses are designed in 3.5 week concentrated blocks for project-based inquiry, with dedicated overlap between the blocks to provide interdisciplinary linkages.
This blog will chronicle the adventures, learning experiences and trials and tribulations of the participants in TIES Argentina. We will try to update on a weekly basis, and welcome your feedback and suggestions.

Friday, May 13, 2011

History and Culture III - Present and Future Argentina

Our final week of History and Culture with Marcelo Reynoso began with a conversation with Nahuel "Gatito" Jofre, a musician who specializes in Argentine folk music. We learned about the history and how folk music has evolved throughout South America. That afternoon we had an eye-opening conversation with a man named Nino, who is a representative from an organization that attempted to publicize the events of the "Dirty War", one of the darkest periods in modern Argentine history.  The next day Marcelo discussed the topic of modern Argentinean politics and summarized the complete history from the Huarpes to the present day system. To complete the class we took a three-day trip to Valle de Uco to experience more Argentine culture.

Gatito explained Argentine folk music in words and music

     During the first day in Valle de Uco, our group attended a lecture from Jorge Difonso, the mayor of San Carlos, on the topic of mining and its effect on sustainability. Afterward we had the opportunity to speak with the mayor about these issues and gain further insight on the topic. To give us a different perspective on the mining issue, we listened to a women who belonged to the local anti-mining organization. She explained how the mine would affect the people in San Carlos on a personal level. To conclude the day, we shared mate and played games at Marcelo’s majestic casa.

Mayor Difonso explains sustainable development in San Carlos
      On our second day in San Carlos we had breakfast at Susana’s house. Susana shares one of eleven locations involved with the eco-tourism organization called Camino de Altamira. We learned how to make tostadas and had a delicious breakfast with her assortment of homemade jams. Then we walked to a nearby agricultural farm called El Melocoton, which is also part of the Camino de Altamira group. We learned about the honey making process and got to taste the sweet final product. Oscar, the farmer, showed us around the orchards and also displayed how he tills the fields with his tractor.

Susana and Marcelo explaining the concept of ecotourism embodied in Camino de Altamira

     In the afternoon, we went to an elementary school called Escuela de Viluco where we played with the children and learned about the modern Bolivian immigration to Argentina. It was really rewarding to spend time with the kids, even though they beat us in soccer, because of our mutual interests in each other’s lives.

Olivia making friends with a Bolivian boy

Kris showing the boys how to take photographs

Kelsey playing El Lobo with the school children

The last day in San Carlos we were interviewed by two different local radio stations. We were asked questions regarding the TIES program and also questioned our views towards current issues in the Mendoza province. Courtney Allen became a local star with her on-air performance of Amazing Grace.

Courtney making her radio debut.  She signed autographs for the locals afterward

     Following our radio interviews, we visited INTA, which is a government organization that researches the improvement of agricultural goods. Following INTA, we went to two very different wineries to contrast between the styles of production. First we visited Bodega Appon, a very small operation, which is run by two brothers from San Carlos who have been in the industry for around fifty years. Afterwards we toured an enormous winery called Salentein. The Salentein vineyards cover over 700 hectares of prime real estate and they boast some of the most modern facilities in the region.


Late harvest vineyard in the foothills of the Front Cordillera

     We had an enjoyable trip to the beautiful city of San Carlos and we are all sad to see the program coming to a close.  The TIES program has been very beneficial and educational for all students involved. Our experiences have been invaluable and have exposed us to new perspectives and ways of life.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Economics of Mendoza

The TIES group has been working on the last unit of economics section with Dr. Avin for the last week and a half. The first field trip we took during this unit was a wine tour to local bodegas with a specific purpose.  The objective was to visit two wineries, one a very small,  family-run winery and the other a large industrial winery, and make comparisons between the two.
We first began our field trip at the small family winery, Familia Cassone.  The winery is set on the outskirts of the city of Maipu.  After we traveled through the city, we were struck by the tranquility and beauty of the Cassone bodega. The rows of dark green grape plants set against the backdrop of the mountains forced many of us to reach for our cameras.
View of the Frontal Cordillera from the Familia Cassone vineyard

 Here they not only had the grape plants, but also the production equipment required for production of wine, from grape to bottle.  This was interesting because we observed the whole process from start to finish.  During our tour we were treated with a demonstration of the winery’s new labeling machine. After the tour, we had tasting that included a detailed description of economics of family-run wineries by one of the owners, Frederico Cassone.  We then had an opportunity to purchase souvenirs from the winery, after which  we thanked our hosts and hurried off to visit the much-anticipated Norton winery.
Frederico Cassone discusses the economics of family-run wineries

When we arrived at Norton we were struck by the contrast. At Norton, instead of the being greeted by one of the co-owners we were greeted by a security guard. Where Familia Cassone blended in with the surrounding countryside, Norton stood out with its billboard-sized sign and security hut. We were ushered into a fancy room where Walter Pavon greeted us. Walter is an economist with Bodegas Argentinas, a consortium of wineries throughout western Argentina.

Waler Pavon of the Bodegas de Argentina describes the wine economy of Mendoza

After Walter’s presentation on the economics of the wine industry, we were ushered outside for a delicious lunch of roast beef and potatoes and, of course, Norton wine. After our lunch we were guided on a tour of Norton, during which we saw many different stages of production. Many students were struck by the massive scale of wine production. During the tour we were able to taste the wine from each stage of production. After the tour, the TIES group pillaged the gift shop and boarded the bus, tummies filled with delicious food and wine.

Brandon testing Norton Reserva from the barrel

The other field trip we went on was right across town at the Mercado Cooperativo de Guaymallen. This is a massive agricultural cooperative responsible for the distribution of fruit and vegetables throughout western Argentina.  The secretary and the vice president of the co-op showed us around the different areas of the operation.  Following our tour,  we interviewed different sellers about the market, the economics of the system, their role as sellers, and other aspects of the cooperative.   After the interviews we used our free time to roam about the co-op.  This gave us a good amount of time to explore and learn more about the co-op and buy from local vendors. We bought fresh fruits, vegetables, empanadas and sweets.

Brandon, Joe and Alicia discussing the economy of fruits and vegetables at
Mercado Cooperativo de Guaymallen
   At this point, we are finishing a 4-day break and are ready to start the final unit of history and culture. There is an interesting mood amongst the TIES members as our departure for home quickly approaches. In 14 days we will be coming home.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Buenos Aires Economics Trip

The economics portion of the TIES program began last week. Much of the week was spent studying and analyzing the different perspectives that are used when gauging and transforming economic development.  There will be a number of guest speakers throughout the economics course.  Valentine Maqueda, a political science student at the University of Cuyo, came and spoke on the structure and history of the government of Argentina.

 Thursday evening, we embarked on a 15 hour bus trip to the great port of Buenos Aires.  Upon arrival, were granted a tour of the Los Pibes community center in La Boca, one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the economic crash of 2001. The center is a private organization that was founded to assist the poorest members of the community with educational opportunities, vocational training and food assistance.   Conditions in the neighborhood have been steadily improving, but the center still feels about 200 families a day through direct meals and home support. 

Valentin translating during a tour of the textile facility at Los Pibes
Following lunch at Los Pibes, we then took a tour of Buenos Aires, including both the old and new areas.  We started in La Boca, the first port of Buenos Aires, which was built by Italian immigrants that worked in the warehouses and meatpacking plants.  The neighborhood was transformed by the artist Benito Quinquela Marti, who convinced his neighbors to liven up the neighborhood with festive colors, making it one of the most famous neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. 

The center of the city hosts an impressive array of colonial architecture, including the Casa Rosado, the historic presidential residence, where many famous political speeches have been given, including Eva Peron’s famous Cabildo Abierto  dialogue with the people in 1951. The adjacent Plaza de Mayo is an icon of political activism in the nation of Argentina.  This is the home of the “Mothers of Plaza Mayo” which march around the plaza every Tuesday, seeking to know what happened to the children that disappeared in the Dirty War.

Casa Rosado, with the central balcony made famous by the Perons

Plaza de Mayo, with the famous protests signs seeking information on the "Disappeared Ones"

 The last part of the tour was to Palermo and Recolleta, where we say the Floralis Generica, a sculpture donated by architect Eduardo Catalano.  The pedals of the flower open in the morning and close in the evening.  Our final stop of the day was La Recoleta Cemetery, which is a cemetery for the wealthy and the revolutionary heroes.  Eva Peron, the first lady of Juan Peron and Julio Roca are among the dignitaries in the cemetery.

TIES crew touring the famous Recoleta cemetary

Floralis Generica

The following day was ushered in with a tour of the Teatro Colón.  Built in the late 19th century and into the 20th century, this theater is decorated in French and German styles. The theater recently went through a restoration process that took five years and 3,000 workers to perform.  The only flaw in the theater is that the acoustics are perfect because if someone hits a wrong note, everyone know it.  In the afternoon, we were able to choose any of the several museums to attend for the afternoon.  The most common choices of attendance were the MALBA, National Fine Arts Museum, and the Evita Peron museum.

Courtney dazzling the red carpet of Teatro Colon
The evening ended with a tango show, including lessons and a dinner show.  Tango has its roots in Argentina, and has a circular history whereby the tango rose through the social classes in Europe after migrating from the immigrant slums of Buenos Aires, where it was based on the hard times of trying to find work and make ends meet as an immigrant in the port.  The tango became an important symbol in Argentina after gaining immense popularity in Europe.

Alisha and Tom demonstrating the focus needed for the Tango












Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lavalle Desert Biology

     Our final week of biology involved a three-day excursion in Lavalle.  On Monday we went to CONICET, the Argentine national research organization, to meet with Drs. Julieta Aranibar, Florencia Campon and Susana Lagos. Julieta presented her studies on the root structure of mesquite forests and how they gather water in desert environments,  Florencia talked about insects in the Mendoza region, and Susana presented information about arachnids and scorpions and their defining characteristics. 

     The next day we left for Lavalle, a desert region in the north of Mendoza province. We set up camp at a puesto/restaurant where we would stay for the next two nights.   

TIES crew at the Lavalle puesta
  Our first activity we divided into groups and looked for ant colonies. For each colony we found we marked the ants with pink nail polish to collect later as a population estimation method. 
Alex collecting insect specimens in the Lavalle desert
  Afterwards we gathered and had a group discussion with Julieta, Florencia and Susana concerning women in natural sciences.  That night Olga the owner prepared two goats for dinner. After we feasted we observed insects under a spot light outside in the dark.  We categorized the insects into genus nomenclature.

Excellent specimen of a walking stick found during our investigation
The next morning, we awoke early and drove to a mesquite forest. Julieta gave us instructions to measure a transect of 100m and we collected data on plant species and returned to the puesto.  That afternoon Todd Wellnitz gave an informal lecture on the intermediate diversity hypothesis followed by a discussion with Julieta , Florencia, and Suzanna on the differences in  higher education between the United States and Argentina.   

Brandon discussing academic issues with CONICET researchers
  Afterwards we split into groups and collected insects from two different terrains to decide where we would be doing our scorpion hunt later that night.  After a hearty meal of empanadas we set out at night to hunt for scorpions.   Because of a prehistoric evolutionary trait designed to protect them from excess UV radiation, scorpions contain a protein that reflects UV light, which causes them to glow in the dark when illuminated by UV light. We collected over 15 scorpions that night.

Glowing scorpion found in the dark of night, Lavalle

Scorpion death grip, Lavalle desert

Our final day we measured out another transect of 100m and collected data on plant species but in the sand dunes. Then we put out ant traps with two different baits. One consisted of commercial birdseed and the other of tuna. We did this in order to understand their eating habits. 
     We returned to Mendoza that afternoon to finish our final research projects for biology. On Friday, we completed our three weeks of Biology with an open discussion connecting what we'd learned over the three weeks and then presenting our final projects to the group.



Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Uspallata Ecology

As biology continued into its second of three weeks, we got down to the nitty-gritty and had an introduction to biology and statistical analysis so we could infer patterns and relationships in the data we collected on our horseback trip.

Todd Wellnitz leading the TIES crew in a Biology discussion at the hostel
            The next day was an introduction to what the next study would involve with two native Argentine researchers, Erica Scheibler and Paulo Lambias.  They gave us the information we needed for data collection and explained what we would be looking for in Uspallata.  Erica’s research in the Andes is heavily dependent on streams and, for our research purposes, diversity.  Paulo is currently working on his Ph.D. with his research on monogamy in the South American sedge wren.
In Ithaca, New York, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, Paolo is doing a lot of research with these birds to understand different lifestyles and processes of these birds based on their environments.   The sedge wren has an interesting way of building their nests, as the female, aided by the male, often builds more than one nest in the tall Pampas grass.  There are many possible reasons for this, including avoiding predation, creating distractions, or allowing the males of the species to practice polygamy. 
When we arrived at the Uspallata region, we were divided into four groups.  Two groups went with Paolo to a field full of Pampas grass (often taller than us!), even though this is not the mating season for the wrens.  The groups in the fields were to measure the Pampas grass sections by using cups to represent wrens’ nests.  We measured the height of the grass, density of the plant, and the concealment it provided the nest.

Brandon and Alicia measuring the height of the Pampas grass

 The other two groups stayed with Erica and Dr. Wellnitz to collect samples from the stream nearby and then record diversity data of the aquatic organisms they collected. 

Alex and Erica gathering samples from RIo Uspallata near our campground

Frank collecting stream ecology samples


The night ended for everyone with a campfire and dinner at our campground.  Around the campfire Dr. Wellnitz, with the help of Paolo and Erica, taught us about the evolution of species.

The second day, the stream groups went into the field and the field groups went to the stream.  The new stream team sampled different streams than the group.  One group went about 30 kilometers north of Uspallata to collect data from a stream near Tambillos. 

Kelsey and Kris collecting stream data near Tambillos
These transects provided three different locales to evaluate the diversity of streams.  We measured this the same way as the first group at the other stream did.  This was done by holding a net in slow, medium, and fast stream water, and disturbing the ground - catching everything that got picked up by the current.  We did this for five minutes, measuring velocity by timing how long an object took to float five meters. 

When the groups met at the end of the field studies, we headed back to Mendoza to put everything together.  The sedge wren groups looked for patterns in their data, while the stream stream collected all of their critters from their samples. 

Dan and DJ collecting stream ecology data

The next morning, Paulo gave a lecture to answer questions about the information we gathered from the wren’s nests.  This was followed by a short lecture from Dr. Wellnitz and time to work on our group projects.  



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mendoza Mountain adventure

     The TIES-Argentina Biology unit started off with a morning lecture from Dr. Todd Wellnitz followed by an afternoon activity at the Mendoza Zoo.  The zoo was more old-fashioned than we were used to, allowing us to get closer to the animals than zoos back home.  A troupe of monkeys wandered the grounds begging for food and entertaining patrons, something we were surprised to see.  We observed the different adaptive features of monkeys, bears, birds, elephants, and other animals.  The zoo sprawls across Cerro de la Gloria in Parque San Martin, with a wonderful array of beautiful flora, and we really enjoyed the afternoon with our peers.  This was also an excellent exercise in people-watching, as many families were also strolling the zoo’s grounds on Sunday afternoon. 
TIES crew and assessment team assembled for the start of the Biology section

     For our first Biology trip we revisited Uspallata for five days.  Once we arrived and settled into the hostel, we ventured down the road to do a preliminary survey of plant life in the high desertTher and to choose a topic for our practice project.  Groups then developed a hypothesis based on their observations and worked to develop a methodology for testing this hypothesis for the following day.  The TIES team then recharged with a talk from Jane Pederson (of UWEC’s History department) on handling horses, an asado (we can’t get enough!), a clear view of the stars, and some friendly ping-pong matches.

        Day two started in the field at a very student-friendly (and appreciated!) 10 A.M.  We began collecting data according to our protocols, altering them as our individual studies required.  After fieldwork, students were split into two groups for a one-hour horseback “training” ride - a chance to practice handling the horses (as a few students had never ridden before) and take in some of the stunning scenery nearby.  This also offered us the opportunity to meet our guides for the trip, three brothers and their cousin who are gauchos (or Argentine horsemen).  Many of us found the ride both relaxing and invigorating and we traded much of our anxiety about the upcoming trek for excitement. 

Westward ho!  Headed into the Frontal Cordillera on horseback

           On day three, TIES saddled-up to take on the Andes and our second biology projects with our groups.  We rode for about four hours before taking a lunch-and-biology break.  Teams each investigated a topic (human impact on the ecosystem, ants, a conveniently-located cow carcass, and stream-critters) in the immediate area and gave a brief presentation about their findings.  After two more hours of riding, we arrived at our camp.  Nestled in a valley alongside a stream, tents went up, the stars came out, and we enjoyed another asado prepared by our gaucho friends and guides.

Horse camp at Chacai Creek (6400') in the Frontal Cordillera
      For the first time on a fieldtrip the TIES group was split-up to work in two separate locations, with two groups riding two hours further into the mountains to another valley for their new projects and two remaining at the campsite for theirs.  The seven students that rode further (accompanied by Dr. Wellnitz, Dr. Brian Mahoney, Lori Snyder, and a few guides) negotiated steep ascents and descents with their horse-companions, arriving at another stream nestled in a valley.  These two groups studied the lichen and thorny plant populations at the site, while the two groups at the first site braved arthropods in addition to studying plant diversity and abundance.  Once reunited, the group enjoyed an Andean thunderstorm, dinner, and, once the storm cleared, a gorgeous view of the night sky.
View down canyon from upper research area at Los Leones (7500'), Frontal Cordillera

            Before the afternoon ride back, the two groups that rode further the previous day joined forces with Team Arthropod and Team Cacti (lovingly nicknamed by the students) and helped them finish collecting data.  

Team Arthopod with Todd Wellnitz collecting diversity data on transects

Team Cacti collecting data on barrel cactus

 After a quick lunch at camp, horses and mules were loaded and the caravan, exhausted in all the best ways, rode four hours back to the hostel to board the bus back to Mendoza.  Overall, the trip was outstanding, and the TIES crew extends its utmost appreciation to the guides and gauchos of Mendoza Mountain for their knowledge, professionalism and good cheer!

TIES crew with gauchos and guides  at base camp





Monday, March 21, 2011

Valle de Uco

After a very relaxing three-day break, the group was ready to pick up where they left off in the history and culture class with Marcelo Reynoso.  This six-day section focused on the era of Perón in Argentine politics and was divided into two parts.  The first part included lecture time for half of the day while the other half of the day was focused on local fieldtrips. We took three fieldtrips during these first few days. The first fieldtrip included a visit to the local artisan’s market. While there we learned about the history of how the market came to be and how it continues to progress today. Our second trip took us to El Museo de Cuyo, which focused on the history of the Mendoza region, where we learned about several important figures such as San Martín, la familia de Francisco Civit, and Manuel Belgrano. The last fieldtrip focused on the economical development of IMPSA, a large industrial factory in Mendoza. There we learned about an Italian family who transformed their small workshop into one of the largest international industrial factories in Mendoza. After our visit to the industrial factory, Leonardo Román, a history student from the University of Cuyo, visited us and aided in the discussion about Peronism during the 1970’s.

Touring wind turbine manufacturing at the IMPSA plant

             On Saturday we got up bright and early to start the second half of our six-day history and culture lesson, a three-day trip to Valle de Uco. After a short stop at a monument dedicated to San Martín we arrived in San Carlos where we sat down for a talk with Camilo and Blanca. The couple shared their history of how their family arrived in San Carlos and also talked about their experiences during the presidency of Perón. After visiting with Camilo and Blanca, we set off to meet with Marcelo’s parents to talk about their life in San Carlos. It was interesting to see the two varying viewpoints of the couples on politics during the era of Perón and the differences in the history of their families.     

            The next morning we embarked on a bike excursion. This adventure led us on a tour of the canal system of San Carlos. We had several stops where we looked at how the canal system was controlled and listened to Marcelo explain the importance of the canals. After a 13 kilometer ride the group sat down for a quick lunch before a rafting trip on Río Tunuyán. 

Rio Tunuyan and the Frontal Cordillera, Valle de Uco

TIES crew ready to raft the Rio Tunuyan

Following a chilly ride down river, the group returned on bike to the hostel in order to get ready for that night’s festivities. For dinner we headed to a local restaurant called Bar del Abuelos in San Carlos that continues traditional culture. This restaurant still uses family recipes that are 60 years old and also maintains traditional dress. While enjoying the food, we were also serenaded throughout the night.
  Monday morning included a trip to two government offices in San Carlos that are in charge of controlling irrigation of the region. After talking with the superintendents of irrigation in this region, we were able to fully understand how the irrigation system around San Carlos functions and the different demands that it fulfills. We then returned to the hostel to sit down and talk with two Peronists, people who were in support of Perón during and since his presidency. These gentlemen took time to explain to us their political affiliation and experiences during Perón’s presidency and discuss how they continue to practice this identity.  This meeting, as well as the others, helped to put into context the lecture Marcelo had given during the first three days of this section. After a full six days we returned to Mendoza for a short break before starting our biology block.

Group discussion with Peronistas

Our history and culture instructor, Marcelo Reynoso with his parents in Valle de Uco