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WKU students, faculty complete Semester At Sea Experience

Eleven WKU students and four faculty members have returned from the first Semester At Sea™ Enrichment Voyage addressing the theme “Waters of the Caribbean.”

Semester At Sea

SAS group in Cueva la Ventana in Puerto Rico where they learned about how water moves through caves in a karst aquifer system.

The three courses offered (GEOL 475, GEOG 475, and GEOS 510) represent a collaborative effort between the Semester at Sea™ Program (SAS) through the University of Virginia, the WKU Honors College, and the Department of Geography and Geology. The study abroad program offered students the opportunity to engage in an international field-based science course throughout the Caribbean Sea aboard a state-of-the-art “floating classroom,” the MV Explorer.

Faculty members participating were Andrew Wulff, Jason Polk, Bernie Strenecky and Leslie North. Student participants were Sarah Arpin, Lee Anne Bledsoe, Tessa Duvall and Brittanee Morgan Hunt, all of Bowling Green; Jordan Cottingham of Sebree; Courtney Elder and Amy Matheny of Owensboro; Jared Midgett of Watertown, Tenn.; Shelby Rader of Irvine; Caroline Wells of Glasgow, and Heather Williams of Elkton.

Students participated in a variety of activities on 10 different Caribbean islands with an emphasis on the integration of geologic, geographic and environmental issues related to water resources, climate change and environmental policy. Students explored the natural environment, while simultaneously being immersed in the local cultures, developing an appreciation of the challenges of island life and an understanding of the diversity of the communities of the Caribbean region.

The ports of call they visited included Nassau (Bahamas), Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, Dominica, Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad, Bonaire, Curacao, and Aruba before returning home via Ft. Lauderdale.  On-shore activities included climbing volcanoes, cave exploration and inventory, snorkeling to explore modern carbonate reef environments, visiting a desalination plant and a water barge, and visiting local freshwater sources, such as springs and mountain gorges. The group also had a special invitation from the government of Barbados though the Deputy Consul General, Philip St. Hill, to meet with the Caves of Barbados organization to work on a preliminary cave inventory and feasibility study with regard to turning Cole’s Cave into a wild show cave for educational purposes.

SAS2

WKU students see how sea water is turned into fresh in Curacao at the world's oldest desalination plant.

The students simultaneously initiated a $100 Solution, a project led by Dr. Strenecky, wherein student groups work to provide a solution to improve a community using only a $100 bill. This resulted in working with Caves of Barbados to provide educational materials regarding the importance of caves and karst landscapes as sensitive ecosystems that contain vital water resources and biota, including children’s activity books, posters, and electronic media for use in K-12 school programs that visit the cave during the summer.

Activities aboard the MV Explorer included lectures provided by WKU faculty and guest lecturers, including ship’s officers; completing analysis of water samples collected from various locales, and reflective discussions and journaling. Students were responsible for researching and presenting background information for each island including aspects of the geology, history, culture, demographics, economy, and government.

Semester at Sea

WKU student Jordan Cottingham uses a colorimeter in one of the ship classrooms to analyze water samples.

The trip culminated in a final presentation by the students titled “Waters of the Caribbean: Reflections and Solutions,” which was well-received by the entire shipboard community, including special recognition by Dr. Les McCabe, President of Semester at Sea™, for being “the best presentation by a student group in 28 years and 8 voyages.” McCabe went on to praise the group by commenting that WKU’s program “should serve as a model for university groups participating in future voyages.”

Semester at Sea

Group after working with Caves of Barbados employees to survey and inventory Cole's Cave.

The courses provided international and national exposure for WKU, and gave students an extraordinary opportunity for immersion in the rich and varied cultures of the Caribbean, while developing relationships with the other students and “life-long learners” on board the vessel. Enrichment Voyages are planned as an annual opportunity and WKU has pledged to have students participate in all future Semester at Sea™ voyages. Visit the group’s blog recorded by Tessa Duvall during the voyage at http://wkuatsea.wordpress.com/ to follow their activities and experiences.

“This Semester at Sea™ experience is another wonderful example of how the Department is engaged in extending WKU’s international reach,” noted Geography and Geology Department Head, David Keeling. “With a focus on one of the world’s most complex challenges – water resources – students in the program gained invaluable experience through hands-on analysis and research.”

Contact: Dr. Andrew Wulff (andrew.wulff@wku.edu) or Dr. Jason Polk (jason.polk@wku.edu).

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