What we are doing with our winter break

by Chris Petersen

It is winter break and my students are dispersed around the country and the world. I’ve just come back from a family visit to California, and wanted to give a flavor of what fall term into winter break actually means for COA students. I’ve asked all of my advisees to send along a picture, and have heard from everyone minus one student that is traveling somewhere around the US at the moment.

There was no linear way to go through who is off doing what and where, so I just started with the two students that have been off to conferences.  Abby Barrows, my grad student, was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in early December where she gave a talk on her microplastics research,  work that is cosponsored with Adventure Scientists (this is such a cool project, but we will devote a post to it next year -chunks of it form the basis for her Master’s thesis).  She came back from the South Pacific last month and is off to South America for another cruise in February, with an EPA conference snuck in there somewhere. My only fear for Abby is that she is so busy between conferences and expeditions, that she won’t find the time to write up her thesis. It’s not the worst problem.  Meanwhile, one of my two seniors, Michelle Pazmino, is finishing up a tutorial on the UN Conference on Biological Diversity  with COA faculty Doreen Stabinsky and Ken Cline, which meant a December trip to Cancun to attend the meeting.

Michelle’s next stop will be going back home to Quito, and then off to the Galapagos to do her senior project in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. She will be talking with lobster fishermen seeing how they view the most recent changes in fisheries management. She is doing this under the mentorship of Mauricio Castrejón from Conservation International, who did the same interviews with fishermen ten years ago, before the current management scheme was implemented.

I do miss the tropics, and two of my students spent the fall working in programs in much warmer weather. Heather Sieger was on a Sea Semester program in the South Pacific, while Rose Edwards was diving in the Turks & Caicos with a School for Field Studies program.  Rose is off on a Sea Semester trip to New Zealand in January, while Heather is coming back and will be my research assistant here starting winter term. My third student doing a program, Maxim Lowe, is in Taiwan doing a COA term with Bonnie Tai and Suzanne Morse with nine other students. The picture I’ve included from Maxim is of part of the Taiwanese coastline that has been heavily armored with concrete blocks to help prevent inland erosion and damage from storms. He sent me a bunch of beautiful landscapes with mountains and trees and yet I picked the one dominated by concrete because it had the ocean.

Three other students are off doing pre-med/vet/health stuff over break.  Renate Braathen is doing German language classes in Göttingen, which is part of her independent study with Gray Cox. She hopes to go to veterinary school in Germany after graduation.  For the picture, she told me “I’m sitting by the statue of Gänseliesel, which is the most famous landmark in Göttingen. The tradition is that when a student completes his or her PhD, they climb the fountain and kiss the statue.” Meanwhile, Siobhan Rickert, another pre-vet student, is off in California working with a horse vet in the Bay Area, in this picture she is using a laser as part of ‘laser therapy’ which is supposed to improve blood flow to targeted areas and promote healing (hence the cool glasses). Until I see the data I’m a bit skeptical (horse owners can get the placebo effect too).  My other senior, Porcia Manandhar, is back in Nepal for a couple of months (with Annapurna in the background of her selfie) doing her senior project looking at women with HIV/AIDS experience the medical system that has both public and private hospitals. This hasn’t been trivial, Porcia had to go through both the school’s research ethics panel but also had to get permission from the government to do this work. She has both in hand and is going for it in Katmandu.


Meanwhile, several of my advisees are staying close to (their) homes and spending time with parents or friends.  My newest advisee, Emma Ober (with the bright scarf), sent a picture hiking with her mom up Mad River Glen to go skiing.  Teagan is also back in Vermont, working on a couple of Gloucester Gull dories with her dad, I must say that these are very sleek looking dories.

Katie Clark is back in California, after spending time with her mom’s second grade class in Oregon.  She is currently in the bay area, and I’m guessing that this picture might be from Pt. Reyes (?), which has a stunning shoreline.  Meanwhile, Kenya Perry is finishing up an internship in Brunswick at a Natural Food store (Morning Glory), but spends her off time back at the treehouse she built this summer (and sometimes playing cello).  Kenya will be back in the winter to focus on nutrition and outdoor education.  Finally, Morgan Heckerd left Maine and spent some time at Standing Rock, but now is back on the Maine Coast for Christmas.

In the language of COA we would call all of these things expeditionary. About half of these students used part of their $1800 expeditionary fund to help support their work.  I want to thank all of the other faculty that have helped my students get these opportunities, Netta van Vliet, Ken Cline, Doreen Stabinsky, Bonnie Tai, Gray Cox, and Suzanne Morse all have official roles with at least one of these opportunities and I’m sure many faculty played a hand in helping students get this happening.

We often talk about the importance of what COA students do outside of class as being as important as what they do in their classes. There is certainly truth to that, although there are times when I think its hard to tell the difference between work inside and outside of the classroom. Counting through these students, 7 of the 13 have been doing  work off campus that is part of a class, internship, or senior project.

For all of my advisees, their general backgrounds and what they are trying to accomplish are also listed on my faculty website under current advisees, except for Heather who sneaks in by being my workstudy.  Perhaps I need to do those updates soon guys, I promise any new info you have sent or send me soon will get put in pronto.

To all of my current advisees, thanks for sending stuff in, and Amrita, I’m expecting to hear from you when you get back from your jaunt around the U.S. I’m quite proud of all of these students, and in my imagination I sometimes believe that I actually have something to do with their accomplishments. Yeah, but really I mostly just get out of their way.  Again, I’m a bit envious of the lives they are leading, and I would be even more envious, except that Thursday night my wife and two daughters all made it back to our house in Bar Harbor, and we just went into the backyard and cut a tree, which is now rocking the living room (but is in need of some ornaments).  Good times.  I’ll pair it up with a Christmas tree worm from Rose, and call it a night.  Time to go play games with my family (it looks like anagrams, I’m about to be killed).  Happy holidays everyone.







About marinestudiesatcoa

Chris is a professor of marine ecology and policy at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine
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