Meet the Animals of Gelb Science Center

Cornelius, Jordan, and Harrison are prominent members of Andover’s Biology Department, but none of the three are instructors or students. Rather, they are three of the animals that make their homes in the Gelb Science Center. Cornelius, Jordan, and Harrison are Gelb’s resident corn snake, gecko, and turtle, respectively.

Currently, Gelb is also home to a variety of fish, turtles, and most recently, two zebra finches, which are currently being used for Biology-420 Animal Behavior, a course taught by Andrea Bailey, Instructor in Biology.

Students can find these animals on the first floor of Gelb, either in classrooms or in the first floor offices. Leon Holley, Instructor and Chair in Biology, said that the Biology Department has had a history of keeping animals in-house.

“We’ve always had some animals: snakes, mice. You could find pictures when there was even a small alligator in the old science building,” said Holley.

According to Holley, the turtles in Gelb were a gift from Thomas Cone, former Instructor in Biology, who taught at Andover for 51 years. According to Melanie Poulin, Biology Lab Assistant, Cone found the turtles injured on a road. With Cone’s help, they have been living in Gelb since.

Recently, the Biology Department has decreased the amount of animals they keep. According to Holley, one of the reasons for this decrease is Andover’s long breaks, along with concerns for keeping animals enclosed in small spaces.

While Andover is in session, the animals are attended to by Biology Lab Assistant Melanie Poulin, who has been at Andover for over 15 years. Poulin ensures that the animals of Gelb are taken care of, and according to her, her love of animals makes this responsibility a lot more enjoyable.

“I love animals, so I’m in a good place. You can’t often hold a snake, and you can’t often handle turtles. So it’s just fun that I have all these more exotic things. And I don’t have to take them home. They stay here. I love it,” said Poulin.

Another thing Poulin loves about working with the animals is seeing their interactions with them students. She described how some of the these animals can defy one’s expectations and give students who handle them a greater opportunity to learn.

“There’s so many that want to come and see if they can hold the snake. It’s nice that when I have the snake out for people that are afraid of snakes if they just touch him and they see how docile it can be, it might change their mind that it’s not that great big fear of snakes. Or even turtles — some students from the city might never have held a turtle,” said Poulin.

One student that enjoys Gelb’s animals is Violet Enes ’21, who said she used to own nine pets of her own. She says that her first period biology class is enhanced by the soft sounds of the zebra finches outside the classroom.

“Their chirps are really pretty and calming. Since biology is my first class, it’s nice to hear the sounds of nature walking into Gelb. It’s really soothing,” said Enes.

In addition to being a source of enjoyment for students and instructors alike, the animals provide a source for educational engagement. This is the case for Bailey, who, in addition to Animal Behavior, is teaching Biology-420 Ornithology.

“Ornithology this term is actually a lot more research-based. In fact, we’re getting some baby chicks and ducklings on Friday, so we’ll be doing some behavioral research with them and some wild birds as well,” said Bailey.

Bailey specializes in animal behavior, so the opportunity to work with live animals has proven to be beneficial to the courses she teaches.

“I feel like it brings it home a little bit more when you get to use a live creature to really see, first of all… [it’s behavioral] patterns. But it’s not that every animal does the thing every single time,” said Bailey.

Bailey continued, “So just the interaction piece, I think, is really nice if you get to see something. The birds, for example, looking outside and seeing them, I think that really tends to be more popular as well. But the hands-on piece, I think, is really key.”

One of Bailey’s current students is Ace Ellsweig ’18, who is enrolled in Ornithology. Ellsweig expressed appreciation for the ability to interact with live animals as a part of the course.

“It’s nice to have a living specimen to look at. It’s different when you’re looking at a stuffed glass-eyed whatever. You actually have context for the mating calls or the way they bounce when they don’t fly, and when they eat. So it’s just refreshing to have something living,” said Ellsweig.