I can’t believe it but the Guam and Palau course is not only going to run but it’s filled to the cap of 14 student Scientific Divers in Training. In August we will have these students making scientific measurements 40 feet underwater on the reefs of Micronesia. Four weeks ago, only two of them had ever been scuba diving. Now they all have about 11 dives and they’ve been running transects and doing population counts on Catalina Island. On this site we’ll blog about the run up to the Micronesia trip, the experience of the students learning to dive, what we find out there, and maybe even reflections on the experience. It’s a blog.
The Environmental Studies Program got a lot of attention at USC for the Belize Problems Without Passports course, which we’re about to run for the third time. Belize has even got its own course number now, ENST 485, Role of the Environment in the Collapse of Human Societies. So, it was time for us to launch a second environmental summer course based on experiential learning. We kicked a lot of ideas around: Environmental Problems on the Korean Peninsula; Energy and Environment in New Zealand; The Effects of Climate Change on Indonesia; and several concepts based on Catalina Island, where the College has a small campus. All of the possibilities dealt in some way with marine and coastal issues, and all had both scientific and policy components that were very tightly integrated. I traveled to New Zealand in December and did some scoping work that could lead to a course proposal. Working with the University of Indonesia we developed a proposal to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to scope out student and faculty exchanges between Indonesia and USC. But those ideas will need another year or two and we wanted something new for the summer of 2010.
One day marine biologist and ENST Lecturer Dr. David Ginsburg was talking about the three years he spent on Guam doing field work, and that led us to look closely at Micronesia: Guam and nearby Palau. Dave and I have something in common — we both dive (a lot) and we agreed that the if students were going to do intense environmental field work in Micronesia we were going to need to get them into the water. Dave has long combined diving with his biology work. He’s done scientific diving in Guam and Palau and for one month a year he is one of the scientific divers at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. I use diving primarily to get outside and stay fit. I make about 100 dives a year in California, all in double tanks and drysuit. Some of these are advanced decompression dives with helium-based deep gases and up to 100% oxygen for decompression. Half or more are from the beach at night. But I’ve helped the California Department of Fish and Game survey abalone off San Miguel Island and I was in Reef Check’s first California training class, so I know a little bit about making ecosystem measurements in the water.
Developing summer field courses in remote places with “novel” components requires an entrepreneurial attitude and persistence. One of the other College Problem Without Passports courses, IR 318, takes undergraduate students to Cambodia to attend war crime trials of the Khmer Rouge leadership. I like to imagine pitching that course to a risk-adverse administrator at some other university. Now imagine telling everyone you’re taking a bunch of undergraduates on a scientific diving expedition in Palau. Don’t forget to mention that you’ll need at least three times the potential total tuition income for scholarships, student dive equipment, training, and a long list of other stuff. Watch your in-box fill up.
I’ll ask some of the students to blog about the dive training, which they finished last weekend. They exceeded everyone’s expectations by a wide margin, and I am very proud of them. It couldn’t have happened without the support of a great many administrators, faculty and staff in the College. I especially want to thank four individuals: Gerry Smith, USC’s Dive Safety Officer, for giving so much of his time and expertise; Prof. Dave Carron, Interim Director of the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, for providing generous support for undergraduate educational missions; Prof. Donal Manahan, former Director of the Wrigley Institute, for helping us get the ball rolling; and Vice Dean Steve Lamy for encouraging the College faculty to test the limits of experiential learning. This has been a test.
Stay tuned for more. I think we’re taking some of the students diving again during exam week.
Environmental Studies Program