Holy Cross Faculty and Students Participate in a Rare Research Excursion at Sea

College looks to build relationship with SEA Semester program

October 22nd, 2013 by 

SEA
The Holy Cross group stands in front of the SSV Corwith Cramer at Boston Harbor.

Thirty-six College of the Holy Cross faculty and students from various disciplines sailed aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, one of Sea Education Association’s (SEA) sailing research vessels, for a rare three-hour excursion in Boston Harbor.  SEA, based in Woods Hole, Mass., is an internationally recognized leader in educating undergraduate students about the ocean and the environment.  SEA maintains tight working relationships with many of the world-class research institutions located in Woods Hole, including the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the U.S. Geological Survey.  The ship was only in Boston for a week, and Holy Cross was one of only three colleges chosen to take part in a short excursion.

Justin McAlister (biology), William Sobczak (environmental studies), Loren Cass (political science), Daina Harvey (sociology), Sara Mitchell (geology), Mary Conley (history) and Gwenn Miller (history), were a few of the faculty who participated in the day sail which offered a glimpse into SEA Semester, a 12-week study abroad program for undergraduates that combines academic study on shore with a sailing research voyage at sea. Each SEA Semester includes foundational coursework in environmental studies, oceanography, maritime studies, and nautical science, an individual research project, and is designed to offer a multidisciplinary platform from which to study our oceans.

During the excursion, students and faculty were divided into three groups (watches) that rotated through the various activities normally conducted on a working research vessel.  During the trip, students set sails, steered the vessel, towed a neuston net to collect plankton, deployed and retrieved a sediment grab, and examined scientific samples in the lab.  SEA faculty and crew directed activities and were available to answer questions about the ship and SEA programs.  All participants were fed a delicious lunch and the beautiful weather made for a memorable trip.

McAlister, one of the coordinators, has a particular enthusiasm and attachment to SEA Semester since he is an alum of the program.  Miller is also a SEA alum, highlighting the program’s interdisciplinary nature as she pursued a humanities-focused career path, while McAlister followed a scientific-centered track.  In fact, 50 percent of the students who participate in SEA Semester are non-science majors. “The key thing for Holy Cross is that by strengthening ties with SEA,” explained McAlister, “Holy Cross students from a variety of backgrounds, interests, and majors will have an outlet for examining the history, cultures, and science of the human interaction with the sea.  Global change is leading us towards a future where coastal communities are going to be severely impacted and educating students about this from a variety of different angles is very important.”

Colleen Curtin ’14, a biology and French major, found the multi-disciplinary aspect to be the most rewarding element to the trip as well. She said, “It was interesting to learn a little more about the different classes and disciplines that the SEA Semester covered. It was also interesting to hear how students related scientific experiments and projects to some of the history classes they were taking and how they made connections between the history of human interactions at different islands.”

Biology major, Elizabeth Tobey ’14, who went on the day trip on September 28 and studied abroad through one of the College’s rarer environmental study abroad programs, Costa Rica’s Sustainable Development Studies, spoke about the benefit for Holy Cross to build a stronger relationship with the SEA Semester.  “As an alum of a different but also unique study abroad program, I think that nontraditional study abroad programs are extremely valuable, especially for biology students who might otherwise have a hard time studying abroad due to the many requirements of the major, she explained.  “A tighter connection with SEA might allow interested students to have an easier time applying to the program and receiving credit for it.”

Ten Holy Cross students have participated in SEA Semester programs in the past, through the Center of Interdisciplinary Studies’ Semester Away program at the College. McAlister hopes those numbers will rise in the next couple of years.

Casey Dannhauser ’14 recently returned from a semester at SEA this past spring. Although she was interested in the program as an environmental studies major and a longtime sailor, she prides the program for being open to non-science majors without any sailing experience.

Dannhauser found the program to be a growing experience as both an oceanographer and a person.  She reflected, “Life at sea is difficult; without email or telephones, you rely on your shipmates for everything. It teaches you to become more trusting and much more responsible, and I learned to appreciate quiet times during which I’m not in constant contact with my cell phone or computer. Also, I developed a bond with my 28 shipmates that will never be broken.”

The September 28 day-excursion not only provided a fun opportunity for Holy Cross students and faculty, but also set an important first step towards strengthening the relationship between the College and SEA.

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For additional information, please contact Cristal Steuer at 508-793-2419.

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