Taking the classroom to the sea

Sal Cosmedy ’20 (left) and Mia Sigler ’20 at the helm of the SSV Robert C. Seamans, off the coast of New Zealand in November, as part of SEA Semester.

“Life on board the [SSV Robert C.] Seamans can be super regimented, and in some ways it has to be. To keep the boat moving we need to account for all shipmates, conduct regular navigation, keep a lookout, and make sure everything is in working order. 

“I hope, however, that our non-human animal friends can teach us to not carry that regimen too far over into the rest of our lives. Sometimes you have to stop for a moment and take a breath, like the petrels who land on the ocean surface and get carried by the waves.” 

So blogged Sal Cosmedy ’20, a junior at Mount Holyoke College who is spending six weeks this fall sailing a tall ship around the waters of New Zealand. 

Also onboard is Mia Sigler ’20 — who also blogs. The two environmental studies majors are attending the SEA Semester Global Ocean program, studying human impacts on the environment. 

Their experience brings together two important aspects of Mount Holyoke’s educational mission in today’s interconnected world: global education and sustainability. The McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives builds global competence in several ways. It educates by bringing speakers, classes and other programming to campus. It supports the College’s significant international study body — 27 percent are international citizens. And it facilitates study abroad opportunities — on land and at sea — and coordinates Laurel Fellowships for study abroad. 

The Miller Worley Center for the Environment oversees the College’s broad sustainability efforts. These include addressing Mount Holyoke’s environmental impact and fostering a culture of sustainability across campus. The Center also trains future environmental scientists, advocates and leaders by supporting faculty with environmental grants and facilitating student research and internships through the Campus Living Lab. Sigler worked on an environmental history project for the Center last spring. 

She and Cosmedy began their SEA Semester program in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. There they met the other 14 members of their program: students from colleges and universities around the United States, including Middlebury, Oberlin, Smith and Wellesley. They all took six weeks of preparatory coursework before traveling to Auckland, New Zealand, in early November. There they boarded the SSV Robert C. Seamans, SEA’s state-of-the-art 134-foot brigantine. 

Their voyage is taking them through various ports, including Auckland, Napier and Great Barrier Island, as they research how centuries of seaborne commerce, fishing and land development have influenced the natural environment of coastal zones and offshore waters. The 16 students complete individual research projects, as well. 

Each participant is also a full working member of the ship’s crew, which numbers about a dozen, plus five scientists and faculty. The students stand watch, process oceanographic samples, navigate by the stars and other tasks. 

Track the students’ voyage on the SEA Semester blog through Dec. 20.

Sasha Nyary

Voyage with Mount Holyoke. Visit.