College of the Atlantic Summer Field Institute students learn about forest ecology and threats fr...College of the Atlantic Summer Field Institute students learn about forest ecology and threats from climate change in coastal and island locations in and around Acadia National Park.COA Summer Field Institute students learn and explore within Acadia’rugged natural landscapes and remote island and coastal locales. Led by dynamic, passionate faculty and geared toward experiential learning, COA’s summer courses offer a wealth of indelible, transformative experiences.

Applications are now open for three unique summer offerings: Islands Through Time, Institute for Environmental Journalism, and Field Botany: Plants of New England. Each course lasts for two weeks, with college credit available for some. Based on COA’s waterfront campus, each course features place-based, interactive academics and small group sizes.

Islands Through Time

An exploration of the Maine coast through the lenses of art, science, and the humanities is on tap for intrepid Islands Through Time participants. The interdisciplinary course, set for July 19–31, is open to rising high school juniors and seniors and offers two semester credits.

Islands Through Time students study and explore marine biology, field ecology, history, literature, writing, drawing, and public policy. The group of 12 students will spend several nights at the college’s offshore field station on Great Duck Island, visit whale feeding grounds, seal haul-outs, seabird colonies, and small island villages, all while working closely with faculty in literature, the arts, ecology, and science.

“If you have a distaste for walls—walls between you and the world, between ideas, experiences, and disciplines—if you dream of distant harbors and horizons, of the gull on the wing of the wave on the beach, this might be the perfect program for you,” said COA ecology/natural history professor John Anderson. “Each year we look for a small band of adventurous students, willing to go out where the weather takes us, to explore islands, talk to new people, discover old histories, and learn about the sea. We read books and papers, we listen to stories, we sketch, paint and draw. We interview conservation professionals and discuss ways of protecting vital natural resources. Mostly however we immerse ourselves in the island landscape of coastal Maine.”

Great Duck Island and College of the Atlantic Alice Eno Field Research Station is the setting for...Great Duck Island and College of the Atlantic Alice Eno Field Research Station is the setting for much of the two-week Islands Through Time summer course.

The program begins with an introduction to the ecology and culture of Downeast Maine at College of the Atlantic’s waterfront campus. Groups of students rotate through a variety of activities and learning experiences, while individuals or smaller groups participate in intensive tutorials.

The first few days of the course focus on the marine ecology, literature, and cultural history of the Maine coastline. Next, students journey to COA Alice Eno Field Research Station on Great Duck Island, using it as a base to explore other islands, nature, conservation, and more.

The program is intense, physical, and rewarding, Dr. Anderson said.

“You may get wet, you may get cold, and you will get grubby,” he said. “You will dissect creatures you probably never saw in your high school biology classroom. You will climb mountains to look at the sea, and go out on the sea to look at An Islands Through Time student holds a baby Herring gull at the COA Alice Eno Research Station o...An Islands Through Time student holds a baby Herring gull at the COA Alice Eno Research Station on Great Duck Island. COA oversees an ongoing study on the survival and growth rate of gull chicks on the island.mountains. You will make new friends in the best possible way—by working together to achieve common goals.”

Throughout the course, students work directly with College of the Atlantic teacher-mentors, on thought-provoking and rigorous academic assignments in multiple disciplines. Successful completion of the program offers students who apply and are accepted to College of the Atlantic a $10,000/year scholarship.

Field Botany: Plants of New England

An immersive, experiential program of field research, plant lore, and outdoor exploration awaits participants in Dr. Nishanta “Nishi” Rajakaruna’s field botany intensive. The course, set for Aug. 2 –15, is open to high school and college students and learners of all ages and may be taken for two semester credits.

Rajakaruna, a 1994 graduate of COA, fell in love with the native plants of the Acadia National Park area when he was a student, and vividly remembers the special places he visited, the plants he met, and the stories about those plants that were shared by late, legendary COA botany professor Craig Greene. 

Field Botany: Plants of New England is the "ultimate learn-by-seeing experience."Field Botany: Plants of New England is the "ultimate learn-by-seeing experience."Today, after 15 years of teaching botany at the undergraduate level, first at COA and then at Cal Poly, Rajakaruna’s eyes light up when he talks about plants, the Maine coast, and passing on his knowledge to succeeding generations of budding botanists.

“There is no better way to master the flora of Acadia (or anywhere) than to see the plants in very close contact, eight hours a day, five days a week, for two full weeks, with a bunch of plant enthusiasts from COA and beyond,” Rajakaruna said. “It is the ultimate learn-by-seeing experience! Not only will students get to see 200-plus species in the field, but they will see them over and over again, reinforcing the key traits that define each species and the plant families they belong to, learning through direct observation how the environment shapes individual plants and their communities.”

The course is aimed at teaching plant taxonomy, ecology, and ethnobotany to students who are interested in gaining a college-level experience in botany. Students will be exposed to 200 plants found in Acadia, including all the common woody plants, and will see these plants in their natural habitats, including mountains, bogs, wetlands, mixed coniferous forests, and quarries, as well as in private and public garden settings on Mount Desert Island and vicinity.  

"There is no better way to master the flora of Acadia, or anywhere, than to see the plants i..."There is no better way to master the flora of Acadia, or anywhere, than to see the plants in very close contact, eight hours a day, five days a week, for two full weeks, " according to botany summer program leader Dr. Nishanta “Nishi” Rajakaruna '94.

Acadia is home to over half of all the plants known in Maine, including over 180+ species that are considered rare locally or at the state-level. Students will get to see many such plants, including several that are threatened by climate change and associated stressors, and take part in discussions on plant conservation and habitat restoration in a rapidly changing global climate.

“Field Botany will open your eyes to the amazingly complex and often unseen lives of plants all around you,” Rajakaruna said. “After this course, you’ll never walk by a A College of the Atlantic Allied Whale research associate explains the finer points of a seal nec...A College of the Atlantic Allied Whale research associate explains the finer points of a seal necropsy to Institute of Environmental Journalism students.plant without stopping by it for a second to say hello.”

Rajakaruna is a Fulbright Scholar and an associate professor of plant biology at California Polytechnic State University.

Institute for Environmental Journalism

A passion for the environment is shared among participants in the Institute for Environmental Journalism (IEJ), an experiential intensive that gives students the support, instruction, and guidance to produce their own piece of climate change reporting. The course runs July 6 – 17, and is open to rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors, as well as recent graduates.

IEJ instructors work with students to turn passion into skills and to demonstrate that climate change reporting isn’t out of their reach. Participants leave the program with a piece of journalism they can be proud of, a network of journalists Starting the day at the College of the Atlantic pier. Starting the day at the College of the Atlantic pier. and environmental sources, and professional-style experience that they can’t get in traditional student newsrooms.

“Beyond the basics of becoming better journalists and stronger writers, teens leave IEJ with a sense of their own potential. They leave with the skills they need to dive deeply into environmental issues and understand the role of climate change in their own lives. They learn how to pitch a story and how to get an editor’s and a reader’s attention, and they learn that as teens they can make significant contributions to journalism and that their work can inform, inspire and spotlight injustices,” said IEJ Director Katina Paron.

The IEJ started in 2018 as a natural outgrowth of InsideClimate News’ efforts to grow a national network of climate change reporters. The goal of the program is to get students out of the classroom and into the reporting world. It’s a hands-on program that expects a lot from the students and gives them a lot in return, empowering participants to expertly craft their own pieces of reporting long after the course has ended.

“There are a wealth of stories begging to be localized and once a student reporter Islands Through Time students practice field ecology and art among the rich natural and cultural ...Islands Through Time students practice field ecology and art among the rich natural and cultural landscapes of Maine's coastal islands.learns to do that they will be able to create an incomparable portfolio and skill set,” Paron said. “There are issues in their schools and inthe community that they can address through reporting. Whether it is pollution sources near school, car/bus idling in the parking lot, greenwashing from the companies the school contracts with, food waste or energy use on campus — all of these are topics that our students will be able to cover.”

Since every student reports their own story at IEJ, they have different field experiences. One might go out on a lobster boat at 5 a.m., while another follows around a ranger at Acadia National Park. They might meet up with local teen activists who got plastic bags banned in the area or a social justice activist working on redevelopment around a Superfund site. Some might watch a seal necropsy (like an autopsy) with COA Allied Whale, one of the most prominent marine mammal research groups in New England. As a group they’ll take part in guided hikes on mountains in Acadia National Park and hear about their geologic history, or travel on COA’s research boat Osprey to learn about wildlife conservation on Maine’s outer islands.

Institute for Environmental Journalism students prepare to return to the mainland after a day at ...Institute for Environmental Journalism students prepare to return to the mainland after a day at the COA Alice Eno Field Research Station on Great Duck Island.