Thank you for the incredible outpouring of love and support! Our community truly stepped up this year. With your help, we exceeded our goal of $100,000 to unlock a $100,000 matching gift! We also exceeded our participation goal of 500 donors, unlocking an additional $50,000 in matching gifts!

Thank you to everyone who participated to make this year’s 24-Hour Challenge a huge success. Hearing from so many friends, alumnx, and parents made the whole day feel like a true community celebration of COA. 

Save the date for next year’s 24-Hour Challenge on February 4, 2025!

The 24-Hour Challenge is College of the Atlantic’s annual giving day, during which the COA community joins together to ensure the future of our beloved institution.

Gifts to the 24-Hour Challenge support the Annual Fund, which provides critical funding for countless aspects of the COA experience, including student scholarships and financial aid, field-based coursework, support for faculty and staff salaries, and upgrades to campus facilities.

College of the Atlantic is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Your gift to COA supports interdisciplinary, experiential education.

Alsu Shagieva ’24
She/her, Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia

“Even before coming to COA, I knew what I wanted to be doing, and now I am about to do interviews for graduate school. Neuroscience is, in my perspective, very interdisciplinary, because you need to know biology, evolution, physics, math, and chemistry, but you also need to know philosophy, language studies, and the like. COA allows me to not just to build the knowledge for neuroscience, but to explore all these areas. For example, I took the Philosophy of Mind course, because I think that knowing philosophy for a neuroscientist is pretty important just because of the nature of the type of the questions that we ask. Graphic design is also pretty important for scientists, because it’s the communication part of the sciences. You don’t just do research, you also do the poster sessions and outreach to the general public. You usually don’t get that kind of experience if you just go to a normal biomedical research program.

I’m fascinated by the brain because even after all the advances in technology, such as the sequencing of genomes, we still don’t know how the brain works. I could have gone to a bigger university with a neuroscience major, but I didn’t want to narrow myself too much. I wanted to be able to study marine science, zoology, take different classes in biology. I wanted to be broader and more well rounded, and if you look at my transcript within my time at COA, it’s so much more diverse than a neuroscience major in a normal university. I would have been going crazy if I had to just talk about molecules all the time.

While at COA, I’ve done a two-week course at MDI Biolab in RNA sequencing and spent three months as an intern at University of New England in Australia, where I worked in a small lab and was able to get a lot of hands-on experience working on single cells. Since my second year at COA, I have worked in the Burgess Lab at JAX, where they are mainly researching Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which is a very rare neurodegenerative disease. I spend at least 10 hours a week there, working on ongoing experiments. I also joined the JAX summer program, where I worked in the same lab. Last year I wanted to go to Mexico to take part in COA’s Yucatán program and learn Spanish. I ended up having visa problems while I was there and so I had to stay through the spring term, but I was able to take a more advanced Spanish course, do a special math course online with COA professor David Feldman, and for my third credit, I found a local lab I could work in for 10 weeks. It was an interesting experience, both culturally and linguistically.

My high school was a part of Moscow State University, a big school with a lot of departments, and I was so sick and done with the academia there because it was all about the rankings, and this is the big professor, and I was like, ‘Give me a break.’ And then I went to United World College in India, and realized I still wanted to do research. When I came here, I was looking for more of a smaller sized community while still being able to do research, so I was perfectly fine. I think it’s actually better to start your undergraduate research in a smaller community because then you have more one-on-one time with your mentors. Here I get the most out of professors because it’s not like a big auditorium where you just sit and listen and the professor doesn’t remember your name.”

Odin Gage ’24
He/him, Thorndike, Maine

“Interdisciplinary education is really wonderful for people like me who have so many different interests. I think if I had gone to another university, I would probably have been very tempted to change majors multiple times, which would have been not great. It’s really nice here, where I have a lot less pressure to just do one thing. I could do anything for a while and then do a different thing, and then do a different thing. And I can combine them. There’s a lot of freedom that it allows that I wouldn’t have elsewhere, and that’s broadened the way that I think about the world.

I came here kind of with a focus in marine biology, and have now wandered over into taking a lot of philosophy classes, a lot of creative writing classes, and recently a lot of art classes. There’s actually a lot of carryover. There are a lot of concepts that have come up in my science classes that led me into the philosophy classes, because I wanted to understand how people theorized about these different things and the broader reach of these ideas. And then once I got into the philosophy classes, I found that to express the ideas I wanted to be able to make a video or draw a picture or something. So each subject kind of led into one another, and writing is just in everything.

In today’s day and age, we’re constantly being bombarded with so much information, and to restrict ourselves to only learning about one particular thing is, I think, almost kind of dangerous. Already, most of the information we get we can’t even understand or process well, so I think it’s important to be able to think in multiple different ways. I get worried that if people are limited to only thinking about things through one framework then when they get all the information of the entire world dumped into their brain it’s just too much. So you have to have multiple ways to process and understand it.

My favorite class that I took here was probably A History of God with Gray Cox. That’s a really, really amazing class. I still think about that a lot. Philosophies of Death and Dying with Heather Leakey I would also highly recommend. And then herpetology. Steve Ressel, who used to teach that, is retired as of last year, but that was a really great class. It was so much fun to go out and look at salamanders.”

Joujou Dhouib ’26
She/her, Monastir, Tunisia

“I came here with the purpose of studying sustainable agriculture, but I haven’t taken any classes in that yet. I’ve been exploring my options. I liked the idea of taking multiple courses in different places to see, ‘Do I really like this?” or, “Do I really know how it feels to also achieve some of the dreams I’ve had?” I have a lot of ideas, but I never got, like, the right information on how to do it. And I took a class in it and now I have the base knowledge, I’m able to go further with it. My classes seem very diverse. But after taking them, I can see how all of them kind of connect and build on each other. Hopefully, by the end of this year, I’ll focus more on sustainable agriculture. Take some classes in it, see if I actually want to pursue it, or if I like something else that I tried better.

Interdisciplinary education opens up a lot of perspective on how to see things and allows you to tackle the subject from different points of view, not just one direction that everyone is going through. Here, each student is coming at things from a different combination of courses, and in the classroom, you can see whose perspective is connected more into sciences, who’s connected more into human human studies, and who’s more into arts, and all of these combined together make for a different course than what it would have been without the input of all the other interests that people have.

My favorite class I’ve taken is Geology of National Parks. I really loved that one, and the way it made me connect more with Mount Desert Island and the surrounding area. Before I just looked at it as an island, and then with the course, it’s more of, ‘Okay, what type of rocks are those? This is where a glacier passed by before, this is where this type of rock is coming from.’ But my actual favorite thing that I’m doing here is not connected to classes, it’s more connected to extracurriculars, which is kayaking. I did kayak before at home, but wasn’t in any way professional, just kayaking in front of the house. Coming here actually made me realize there is more to kayaking than just rowing and paddling. In combination with the geology class, it became more interesting because I’m passing by an island and I see a cliff and I contemplate more of, ‘Is this a fault, or is it a mountain, or what is it exactly?’”

Asher Panikian ’24
He/him, West Boylston, Massachusetts

“I have always been interested in the whys and hows of what animals do. And then I went to Great Duck Island and I fell in love with gulls, because they’re everything, they’re perfect. They have unique personalities. I spent a whole summer watching gulls in their most intimate personal lives. And it was so fascinating. And now I can’t stop. I want to know everything there is to know.

Every class I’ve taken can tie back to my study of birds. I took your classic environmental science courses like ornithology, ecology, natural history, wildlife conservation, all that stuff. But I also took wildlife law and environmental law and policy. And those two classes were really crucial to my understanding of how I’m moving forward with seabird ecology. Because I think if you’re going to study ecology, you have almost a moral obligation to understand the law frames that you’re working within. It’s a complicated world out there, and it’s governed frequently by people who don’t really know a ton about the science that they’re writing policy for.

I think COA prepares people for fieldwork more than almost any other school because we do hands-on stuff. That’s why I came to COA, because I didn’t want to learn ecology through a textbook. I wanted to learn it by doing it. And I’ve had opportunities to do work that undergrads can’t even dream of doing at other schools. On Great Duck, I got 10+ weeks of seabird monitoring and hands-on research under my belt. I was picking up birds and banding them and weighing them and I was sitting up in a lighthouse tower watching birds go by all day, every day, and collecting really complicated data, and I put it together into posters that I’ve taken to conferences. And all this before I’ve gotten my degree, which is a huge deal. You don’t see a lot of people this young or in this stage of college doing that kind of thing.

COA has massively prepared me for a career, and it’s not just with Great Duck. It’s the classes I’ve gotten to take, even in my first year, like Biology Form & Function. The final project is an independent research project that you design and lead yourself, and it’s not like ‘Okay, go make a baking soda volcano’. And almost every science class I’ve taken here has been formatted like that, where you have the opportunity to learn the groundwork you need and then go out and utilize it practically. It’s not just a memorization game. That’s the other thing that I love about the classes I’ve taken at COA; I’m frequently encouraged to question the things I’m being taught. I think in the whole time I’ve been here I’ve had one textbook. Everything else has been actual, you know, reading papers written in 1969 by a guy who did a warbler survey that everybody lauds and then I have to go and pick it apart and say. ‘Okay, is this actually legitimate?’ I’ve learned how to pick apart methods and look for inconsistencies and biases and errors. And that, I think, more so than even just the practical ability of, ‘Can I hold the bird without dropping it?’ is crucial for having a good career in ecology. You have to know how to recognize when yourself or your peers are maybe going in the wrong direction. COA has encouraged me so much to question everything I’m learning in a sophisticated and respectful way, and that’s been really good.”