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Eastern box turtle inspires art students and faculty member

UNG senior Kati Hornick works on a sculpture of a turtle for the Faculty Undergraduate Summer Engagement (FUSE) project with Heather Foster, limited term faculty of visual arts at UNG. Hornick and Foster were inspired by the eastern box turtle research conducted by Dr. Jennifer Mook and Dr. Natalie Hyslop, associate professors of biology at UNG.

Armed with her antenna and receiver, Dr. Jennifer Mook intently listened for a beeping sound to increase in volume as she trekked through Tumbling Creek Woods on the north side of University of North Georgia's (UNG) Gainesville Campus searching for an eastern box turtle.

This is a normal occurrence for Mook, associate professor of biology at UNG. But this summer, she had an unexpected trio join her on an excursion. Heather Foster, limited term faculty of visual arts at UNG, and students Kati Hornick and Aida Alarcon wanted to see the box turtle in its natural habitat for inspiration. The trio were creating paintings and ceramic sculptures to adorn the Science, Engineering and Technology building on UNG's Gainesville Campus.

The biology-influenced art is one of 10 Faculty Undergraduate Summer Engagement (FUSE) projects. In its eighth year, FUSE pairs faculty and students together in full-time research projects for seven weeks. Teams then present to other FUSE faculty and peers and receive critical feedback on their findings. FUSE is sponsored by the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities.

Foster devised the FUSE project after seeing the collaboration of visual arts and biology faculty members in fall 2017.

"I saw what Erin McIntosh, Dr. Evan Lampert and Dr. Davison Sangweme created with their exhibit on microbes and art," Foster said, admitting she wanted to try a similar collaboration. "Dr. Drew Pearl told me about the box turtle research, and I'm an animal person and I thought it would be cool to do art about turtles."

Foster tossed the idea out to students who wanted to work with her as well as Mook and Dr. Natalie Hyslop, associate professor of biology. Mook and Hyslop track the turtles and collect data about their movements and habitats for research. She received several applications and Hornick and Alarcon were chosen.

For seven weeks, Alarcon and Hornick worked on their separate and collaborative projects. Alarcon, a junior from Braselton, Georgia, majoring in digital art, painted two large-scale versions of a turtle's eye and body. Hornick, a senior from Cumming, Georgia, majoring in studio art, molded, scraped and sculptured turtles along with their habitats of tree trunks, leaves and branches. She also tenaciously scraped and cut clay in tile forms.

Both women admitted their favorite part of the project featured finding and seeing the turtles in Tumbling Creek, which is behind the Facilities and Plant Operations and Public Safety buildings.

"I think the turtles are really cute," Alarcon said "And you wouldn't think that art and science would combine, but they do."

Hornick loves being outside and seeing nature.

"I've always had a huge appreciation for nature and the environment and the animals in it," she said. "When opportunity arose to study turtles, it was an awesome creature that has a lot of color and unique characteristics to study and bring into art."

Students, faculty and staff will see the artwork when it is installed in the Science, Engineering and Technology building at the end of June. An official reception will be scheduled in August, Mook said.

She added she is looking forward to the art bringing color to the beige walls of the building.

"I hope it is the beginning of a new tradition to increase color in our building that is inspired by biology or chemistry," she said.

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