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SEU Alum’s Wildlife Journey

Michael Hughes, who received the Southeastern Award at this spring’s commencement ceremony, was not your ordinary college student. While many Florida students enjoy spending their weekends at the beach, Michael devoted his free time to writing and self-publishing his books. Over the four years of his college experience, Michael, an Arizona native and biology major, published three books on the wildlife found in Arizona, Brazil and Florida.

Michael was also the first student from Southeastern to be published in a scientific peer-reviewed journal, along with his co-author and recent graduate Jessica Logue ’15. Michael spent his spring break in 2015 writing and submitting a manuscript to the Florida Field Naturalist Journal along with Jessica. The manuscript is about a research study they designed and performed that investigates the composition, structure and activity patterns of the bird community that uses an individual live oak tree. The paper, titled “A Temporal Analysis of a Single Live Oak Tree’s Avian Community in Central Florida During Autumn Warbler Migration,” was printed in Volume 43 Number 4 of the Florida Field Naturalist.

Michael’s first book, Wildlife in the Desert, examines 80 species of animals in the Sonoran Desert and was written when he was a senior in high school. Although there are plenty of books written on the Sonoran Desert, each usually focuses on one particular animal group; Michael wanted to write a book that encompassed birds, reptiles, mammals and insects/arthropods. He started writing the book from his personal encounters in the desert and completed it in six months. The book includes over 250 photos he took and descriptions of the extensive research he did on each species.

“I grew up in the desert, and I wanted a book that encompassed each animal group, but it did not exist. I wrote this book to provide resources that I wished I had and to show the beauty of God’s creation,” said Michael.

In 2013, Michael co-wrote Florida A to Z as an educational tool with Southeastern alumnus Cason Whitlock ’14. Cason works as a science teacher at Southwest Middle School in Lakeland, Florida. The two met in zoology class during Michael’s first semester. Cason did the research on the animals and wrote the content, and Michael photographed the animals and edited the piece. Each page of the book has a picture of an animal and description and is followed by an interactive page for students. The book is used by teachers in Lakeland, including at Lakeland Christian School.

“An ‘A to Z’ format was a nice hook for early childhood teachers to use it for the ‘letter of the week’ schedule common in their classes. Each letter has an art activity associated with the animal pictured to reinforce the content. I have their book in my classroom displayed for those interested in animal life in Florida. It goes home frequently!” said Frederic Wiechmann, science resource teacher at Lakeland Christian.

My Amazon Experience, Michael’s third book, was written after he went on a mission trip to Brazil between his freshman and sophomore years of college. Michael spent three weeks on a boat in the Amazon, and he took over 3,000 photos and completed 110 pages of extensive journaling and notes. He created the book from his photos from the trip. His observations are interwoven throughout the book.

“I am amazed at the accomplishments of this young man as he continues to write and publish books while a student at SEU,” said Dr. Samuel Bennett, professor of education at Southeastern.

Michael’s next step is to pursue a master’s in field biology, wildlife biology or ecology and eventually plans to work as a wildlife biologist.

His books are for sale online at his website or at the Southeastern bookstore; the Casa Grande National Monument in Coolidge, Arizona; and the Pueblo Grande Museum and the Butterfly Wonderland in Phoenix, Arizona.