The Charger Blog

Transformative Marine Affairs Course Offers Hands-On Opportunities in Alaska

Students taking "Human Ecology in Coastal Systems" step out of the classroom and into the Alaskan wilderness, where they connect with the natural environment and with local stakeholders. The next cohort of students will visit Alaska this spring.

February 21, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

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For students taking “Human Ecology in Coastal Systems,” the Alaskan wilderness is their classroom.

For Katrina Vickery ’21, watching bald eagles flying overhead as she sat around a campfire, seeing orcas swimming nearby while she was on the water, and learning about sea lions at an aquarium were all part of a regular day in class.

That classroom just happened to be in the Alaskan wilderness as part of her "Human Ecology in Coastal Systems" course, which enables students to explore "The Last Frontier."

"My favorite part of the trip was hiking up to Exit Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park," said Vickery, a marine biology and environmental science double major. "As we hiked, we passed signs that stated the year in which the glacier had once reached that very spot. Each step we took represented more and more ice that has been lost over time due to climate change. It was not only a breathtaking view, but also, an incredibly impactful and meaningful experience."

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Students enjoy some downtime in Alaska.

While interacting with coastal and marine stakeholders, Vickery and her classmates learned about coastal policy and sustainability. They met individuals with myriad perspectives and interests, including commercial and recreational fishermen, researchers, environmental educators, and representatives of the tourism industry.

Tarsila Seara, Ph.D., coordinator of the University’s marine affairs program who teaches the course, believes Alaska offers students unique opportunities to develop important research and professional skills.

"It was not only a breathtaking view, but also, an incredibly impactful and meaningful experience."Katrina Vickery ’21

"Alaska is a fantastic location to study coastal and marine policy for several reasons," she said. "Students learn the importance of its fishing industry, of its offshore oil and gas industries to the state economy, and of its proximity to the Arctic Circle and the consequent impact of climate change on the local environment – all while experiencing one of the most beautiful places on the planet."

The course, which will be offered again in May, will be led by Dr. Seara and Karin Jakubowski, Ph.D., practitioner in residence in the University’s Biology and Environmental Science department. Designed to enable students to directly experience the social-ecological system in Alaska, the experience allows students to learn about the pressing challenges facing the environment and the societies that depend on it.

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Students learn about the environment and sustainability in Alaska.

Vickery says that whether she was visiting a museum, camping in a wildlife refuge, or meeting with stakeholders, her experience in Alaska was meaningful and transformative. She believes her previous coursework at the University prepared her for the trip.

"The most important thing I learned during this trip was that the marine world is very interconnected," she said. "The stakeholders we spoke with come from so many different backgrounds and professions, yet they all rely on each other and their local environment in so many unique ways. This experience reinforced my passion for scientific communication, and it allowed me to visualize the importance of educating the public on environmental change."

The deadline to apply for this year’s program is February 28. For more information or to apply, click here.