This semester, 16 HWS students are taking part in the Queensland, Australia program led by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Beth Kinne and Associate Professor of Biology Mark Deutschlander. A fast-paced and rigorous academic program, the Queensland semester combines high quality science teaching in the classroom with exposure to and utilization of concepts in the field. While previously the Queensland program included approximately two weeks in New Zealand, this semester is the first time the program has gone “all Australia” both in coursework and field work. The program is run jointly with Union College and includes 16 Union students.
“The extra time in Australia has helped us block out the courses better and provided students with more time for their studies and reflection,” explains Deutschlander, noting he and Kinne are teaching a course “Attitudes Towards Environmental Change in Australia,” and are using locations, events, facilities and experts from their host city of Brisbane. “This is helping students connect more with Brisbane, since we spend four weeks out of the city at field locations like national parks and marine biology stations.”
The program is organized in coordination with The School of Biological Sciences at University of Queensland (UQ), Australia’s largest university. As a biology major who aspires to be a plastic surgeon, Nicole O’Connell ’16 seized on the opportunity to take part in the demanding academic program at UQ.
“The academic rigor of this program allows me to maintain my study, time management and organizational skills along with experiencing a new academic style of teaching,” says O’Connell. “This study abroad experience will be a very humbling opportunity to learn how different, and how similar, the academic and cultural systems of Australia are in comparison to the United States.”
The program’s excursions are to North Stradbroke Island, Heron Island Research Station located on the Great Barrier Reef, Lamington National Park, and the Girraween National Park, among others. These allow for unique scientific research programs that are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
“Field excursions have several significant benefits that cannot be replicated in the classroom. They reinforce and expand concepts from the lectures and provide students the opportunity to hone their observation skills in order to collect data in a very complex natural environment. Perhaps equally important, they create strong interpersonal bonds and mutual appreciation among students as they share common experiences that challenge their intellectual and physical abilities,” says Kinne.
She provides as an example a recent week the group spent in Lamington National Park gaining hands-on experience in the rain forest and several other forest types. “It rained almost every day we were there, including a very large thunder and lightning storm on the last full day. The students were out on 12 to 17K hikes during these storms, arriving home at or after dark each night,” describes Kinne. “Without fail, they marched triumphantly into camp at the end of the day, soggy, muddy, laughing and smiling, checking each other for ticks and leeches, and reporting that these hikes were some of the best experiences they had ever had.”
“It has been a truly integrated experience,” agrees Cameron Benoit ’16, describing the week in the park as spent, “With a terrestrial ecology lecture in the morning, followed by hikes that brought new concepts to life.”
When not on excursions, students reside with host families.
“There are so many opportunities to be involved within the lifestyle, activities, culture and lives of native Australians by living with host families throughout the program; I hope to take full advantage of this opportunity by being an actively engaged member of the family I am living with,” says O’Connell. “There are sporting events, cuisine and amazing opportunities that do not exist in the states that I hope to experience while abroad.”
O’Connell has created a photo blog to capture emotions and memories from the semester in a way she says words sometimes cannot express.
“I hope by viewing my blog others are able to see the spectacular and breathtaking opportunities that exist abroad in which one is able to learn about others’ cultures, lives and geographical locations,” she explains.