Student spends semester sailing southern seas

For most students, fall semester is just the beginning of a new year of classes. Student Kate Perkins, on the other hand, spent fall semester studying abroad on New Zealand’s surrounding waters on a research vessel. Participating in the Sea Education Association Semester program, known as simply as SEA Semester, Perkins studied for two months as a shipmate aboard the 135-foot ship the SSV Robert C. Seamans. Perkins, a biology major with a minor in both environmental science and mathematics, earned a full semester’s worth of credits studying oceanography, maritime history and culture, conservation and policy, nautical science and leadership, oceanographic research.

Perkins and her fellow program participants were split into groups that took turns on watch shift duty. During each watch shift, students were participating in hands-on learning activities either on deck or in lab.

When on deck, the focus was on the day-to-day running of the ship. Perkins and her fellow classmates were taught how to be responsible members of the ship. They daily cleaned and scrubbed the deck and learned about proper sailing and line handling, as well as navigation and piloting techniques.

When in lab, the focus was on developing research skills. Perkins learned how to deploy equipment, handle specimen, and correctly log and analyze data—like temperature, salinity, light content, and native organism population. This collected data directly contributes towards a larger project, a comprehensive compilation of global oceanic readings. Perkins said that knowing that her efforts help to work towards a greater goal

This time spent in lab provided time to collect data for her group’s research project. Although Perkins was on the water for the majority of the semester, before setting sail, she spent six weeks of preparation on Cape Cod in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The town, known for its oceanic research community, is the program’s base. Perkins worked with fellow program participants designing the research projects to be carried out once they had embarked. For her group project, Perkins, who is interested in the effects of societies’ waste streams on the oceans, studied the micro and macro-plastic content in ocean water samples.

The research and education were not simply limited to oceanic studies, but also contained a cultural aspect. In addition to her project looking at plastic content in the ocean, Perkins also conducted a cultural research project analyzing New Zealand’s port systems in comparison to Massachusetts’. Perkins also learned much about the indigenous Māori people of the country. During time spent ashore in New Zealand, she attended a traditional Māori marae, a communal and ceremonial gathering with a spiritual element.

The program also stressed the importance of leadership and teamwork. Perkins said that she developed a better understanding of these two ideas. “Being a good leader isn’t just about charging out in front of your team and showing the way,” Perkins said, “It’s really about supporting your team, making sure that everybody’s… on the same page. Shipmates are responsible for each other. They support one another.”

Perkins first learned of SEA Semester from Professor Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens, who had previously spent ten years working with the program as a chief scientist. Now, thanks to her participation in the program, Perkins’ interest in pursuing a future job aboard a ship has been affirmed. “I loved being at sea, loved being on a ship,” she said. Perkins hopes that, by sharing her story, other students will be encouraged to participate as well. Students who are interested in learning more about the SEA Semester program can visit www.sea.edu for more information.

Photo by Becks Konijnenberg

Photo by Becks Konijnenberg

Perkins Photo

Kate Perkins

Photo by Breezy Grenier

Photo by Breezy Grenier

Photo by Sam Gartzman

Photo by Sam Gartzman


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