Cut to the Chase
Suited up in that easily recognizable white canvas outfit so often associated with beekeeping, Maria Kaouris ('17) was exposed to the world of honeybees at a young age by her father, George, an avid beekeeper hobbyist.
"I would hold the smoker for him and smoke the bees when he asked me to, so that is kind of how I initially got involved," remembered Kaouris, about how she started down a scientific path towards all things bees.
Admittedly distracted from helping her father bee keep as she grew older, becoming more involved with sports and developing her own hobbies, it wasn't until Kaouris witnessed her father's friend do something incredible one afternoon while she was in high school, that Kaouris realized maybe she hadn't actually grown out of her interest in bees.
"My dad was beekeeping with his friend, and I was watching them from the deck. I saw his friend pick up a bee that was ailing. I was pretty sure it was dead, but my dad's friend just brought the bee up to his lips and breathed into it and the honey bee just flipped back over. It was crazy... I think that moment is when I regained interest in beekeeping as a whole," explained Kaouris. "I thought it was fascinating because I think that most of us would probably just put the bee out of its' misery."
It is that general miseducation and misconception about bees, that Kaouris hopes to mend through her Senior Capstone project, which will not only teach the community how to better understand the winged honey producers but also how these small creatures actually benefit humanity, and how humans can better protect bees from exposure to the elements and factors that cause their colonies to collapse, especially in a region like Connecticut.
"I think sometimes [colony collapse] is overlooked because bees are seen as predators or scary and intimidating to us," stated Kaouris. "But honestly, honey bees are very docile creatures. They won't sting unless they are defending the colony, and so I think that it is important to know that so much of our food is dependent on their pollination and I don’t think we always realize that fact."
Colony collapse disorder is something that occurs when worker bees within a colony desert a queen bee, effectively leaving a strain on not only the queen but any immature bees left behind. As Kaouris explained about the phenomenon, "I think that it is important to know that there are things that go into play as well, like bee nutrition, types of flowers you put around your home, the presence of mites in the hive..., and then just the way that bees are nourished... There are a number of factors that contribute to what is a global issue."
So how does Kaouris plan to effect change from the Chase campus? Kaouris hopes that by bringing two honeybee colonies to Chase, the community will not only be better educated about bees and beekeeping but can also benefit from the bees pollination and potential production of honey down the road. Not to mention the impacts the colonies can have on education within the Chase classrooms.
"I found out that there's this organization called The Backyard Beekeepers Association that actually gathers data about colony collapse disorder. I wanted to use that data to see if I could draw any correlations and that's where part of my project was born," explained Karouis. "I knew I wanted to give back to the community in some sort of way and I thought that beehives might be an interesting way to get this project quickly involved in the community instead of just having it be a presentation."
Requesting and receiving grant funds from The Backyard BeeKeepers Association, Kaouris, with the help of her father George, and Chase's Dir. of Communication and bee volunteer, Mo Carleton, successfully installed two bee colonies within Chase's Environmental Classroom on the School's campus last week.
"The colonies couldn’t have been established without the grant," stated Kaouris, who admitted that it cost money to order two nucleus colonies, set up electric fencing to keep predators at bay, and for tools and painting materials for the bee boxes. "I’m very thankful to the Association that they granted us the money. "
Kaouris is hyper aware that she will be leaving her home and Chase come the fall to attend Middlebury College in Vermont where she hopes to study English and Biology, but she is confident that she will stay involved in beekeeping in more ways than one.
"I’m hoping that maybe Middlebury has a beekeeping club," laughed Kaouris. "I would love to get involved with that, and just in general, I know that Middlebury tries to reduce their environmental footprint. So I think just living my life that way, being conscious of the environment, is just one of the ways that I’ll try to stay involved. Oh, and of course, beekeeping at my house too."
Kaouris is set to give her Senior Capstone presentation, likely a 'TED Talks' style chat and bee colony tour, next week, and she thanks, Mr. Kahuda, her project advisor and AP biology teacher, in part for supporting her throughout the process. "[Overall] it's kind of an emotional project," said Karouis, "I get to connect with nature even in a greater way than I was before."
~Kelly Ann Oleksiw
Digital & Social Media Specialist
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