Comets Get Hands-On in Marine Studies

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At The University of Olivet, learning doesn’t always take place in the classroom, on campus or even in the country. Travel learning courses allow students to experience a new culture firsthand, explore different ideas, and ultimately develop a broader understanding of the world and their role within it. For five Comets, a program with the Prescott College Kino Bay Center in Sonora, Mexico changed their education, lives and future in just one semester.

Learning at the Kino Bay Center

The Kino Bay Center has direct access to the Gulf of California, hosting a variety of wildlife from pelicans to sea turtles, fish, dolphins and much more, creating the ideal setting for marine studies. In addition, the three-part, semester-long course dove into natural history, Spanish language, Mexican culture, society and environment studies. Students earned 15 credits, staying on track to graduate, at the same cost of tuition, room and board at OC.

“I’ve been familiar with the Kino Bay Center for 16 years or so. I was introduced to the center and the educational opportunities there while I was with Prescott College. As we began to discuss increasing and enhancing our international opportunities for The University of Olivet students, I recognized that forging a relationship with Prescott College’s Kino Bay Center could be a fantastic option for The University of Olivet students,” President Steven M. Corey, Ph.D., explained.

“The center provides one of the highest quality immersive, experiential and field-based educational opportunities available,” he added. “Having seen students have these types of experiences over many years, I know that this was truly a life changing experience. I’m also pleased that we were able to make this initial semester possible for students at the same cost that their tuition, room, and board would have cost here at The University of Olivet. It’s pretty powerful to have this type of international educational experience at this cost.”

Phase I: Natural History of the Gulf of California

During phase one of the course, Natural History of the Gulf of California, students were immersed in one of the most productive marine environments on earth thanks to the many islands in the region, tremendous biological diversity and geologic and cultural history. During camping and boating adventures, students developed skills in field observation, species identification and field journaling. A class favorite included watching sea turtles hatch and make their way into the ocean.

“My semester at the Kino Bay Center was just so amazing,” said junior Dominique McKillop, a double major in environmental science and biology. “It was like entering a whole new world. I’ve always loved nature and animals, so studying species in Mexico was a big highlight for me. We were even able to perform sea turtle monitoring – netting, tagging, measuring and collecting data – and watching them hatch was incredible. We also monitored whales and dolphins, tracking their movements and learning how to identify the species in the water.”

Phase II: Spanish Intensive and Cultural Immersion

Another highlight of the semester included staying with a local host family for 10 days during phase two of the course, Spanish Intensive and Cultural Immersion. The students studied an individualized language curriculum with a native-Spanish speaking professor, dedicating six hours every Saturday to advancing their skills.

“It was a really cool experience to live with a host family,” explained junior Sabrina Butler, a biology major with a career goal to become a marine biologist. “I was so nervous at first, I didn’t know if I’d make it through the 10 days, but they were really welcoming and I’ve even stayed in touch with my host dad and sister since then. I loved the experience so much I’ve already decided I’d like to pursue a master’s degree from Prescott College and can’t wait to return to the Kino Bay Center, especially to see my host family again.”

Phase III: Society and Environment

Students completed the course with phase three focusing on society and environment, taking a deeper look at the dynamic and complex relationships between human communities and marine ecosystems in the Gulf of California, especially the Midriff Island Region. The class had opportunities to study under fisherman, indigenous elders, teachers, resource managers and families to gain insight into the different economic, physical, spiritual and social relationships people have with the ocean. The final phase of the course also transitioned into the final project, allowing students to hone in on one of the many topics covered in the program by writing a paper and giving a presentation on their topic – in both English and Spanish.

“It was really eye opening to learn about how the area had been overfished and see how serious local fishermen were about adapting sustainable fishing techniques,” Dominique explained. “I decided to focus my final project on Estero Santa Cruz, an estuary designated as a wetland of international importance under the United Nations Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. In addition to overfishing, the area was affected by 16 local shrimp farms. The farms damaged the area with extra sedimentation, creating shallower waters, that in turn hurt clam and oyster populations. I also had the chance to learn about the indigenous Comcaac tribe, a huge part of the history of the area. Beyond the environment studies, learning about the local culture renewed my appreciation for my own Puerto Rican heritage and language, and I’m really looking forward to sharing that with my traditional grandma.”

The Number One Outcome

Returning to classes at The University of Olivet, students are excited to share their experiences, ideas and new views with fellow Comets. The semester at the Kino Bay Center is certain to give students a leg up when entering the work force or participating in an internship, as they’ll have strong foundational skills and a background in hands-on work. Further, these students are embracing a new take on learning and sharing it with their peers – making education an adventure.

“Every day I made into an adventure at the Kino Bay Center,” Sabrina said. “Some of my most memorable experiences are cliff jumping, snorkeling with sea lions, hiking the canyons and mountains, and camping on islands for days at a time. This opportunity helped me solidify the path to achieving my childhood dream, and I can’t wait to see where my future takes me.”

Learn More about OC

Visit OC to learn more about the Olivet ADVANTAGE, which guarantees students have global learning opportunities that provide diverse and innovative educational experiences abroad, in addition to service learning projects, with hands-on experiences at the core of each program; industry-leading internship and research opportunities; and graduation in four years or the fifth year is tuition free when an agreed upon academic plan is followed. Contact the Office of Admissions at admissions@uolivet.edu or 800.456.7189 to learn more.


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