Scholars Journey to Hawaii

Scholars Journey to Hawaii to Learn About Society’s Interaction with Physical and Biological Environment



For the first time ever, a group of College Park Scholars and other students traveled to Hawaii over spring break to research the geology, ecology and sustainable technologies on the Big Island.

This excursion was attached to CPSP359I:The Geology, Ecology, and Sustainable Technologies of the Island of Hawaii, which was also available to non-Scholars students as GEOL388I.

Program faculty included John Merck, associate director of Science and Global Change Scholars; Jessica Wilke, assistant director of Life Sciences Scholars; and Lauren Gilmartin, alumna and graduate assistant for Environment, Technology and Economy Scholars.

"The idea first occurred to me in 2012 when my wife and I vacationed on the Big Island," Merck said. "We quickly realized that most of the sights we were traveling to see would be outstanding stops on an academic travel study of the geology and environmental science of the island… More recently, my colleague Becky Archer of Environment, Technology and Economy had a similar epiphany during a visit, and the director of Life Sciences [Reid Compton] also had the idea."

Students met for four classes on campus, covering major aspects of Hawaiian geology, ecology, culture and energy technology. The program also focused on teaching students how to handle organizational issues. Students who participated in the course were graded on a pre-trip exam, a presentation during the trip, a post-trip paper and participation in all travel-study activities.

After preparing for the trip, students embarked on their journey on March 17, and returned on March 26.

"I learned a lot about the geology of the big island itself while we were there, but also about how sustainable the big island, and all the islands of Hawaii are, and how they generate fairly renewable energy on  the islands," said Claire Bolster, freshman ecology and evolution major and SGC Scholar. "I think  my favorite part was either seeing the eight sea turtles that came up on the black sand beach, or night snorkeling with the manta rays. But all of it was incredible."

Sophomore SGC Scholar Maggie White said the black sand beach was also one of her favorite parts of the trip.

"I've never traveled very far and the only climate I'm really used to is deciduous forests, so Hawaii provided a really good opportunity for me to study a unique ecosystem," White said. "I learned a lot about how different ecosystems formed (since Hawaii is obviously unique being an island formed by volcanoes) and how so many different species came to live and coexist there."

White added that this course was special to her because she is very interested in different ecosystems and how organisms in a system coexist together.

"There were a ton of different plants and I got to see nenes, geckos and a mongoose,” White said. “It was really incredible to see species I wasn't all too familiar with in their natural habitat."

Merck said he hopes that students had an “exhilarating intellectual experience that will lead them to make creative associations across broad areas of knowledge, and motivate them to dig deeper into the academic and professional opportunities they suggest.”

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