ESS 53At 8 a.m. on Saturday, August 16, 2014, two professors, eight students, and one teaching assistant met at the Maine State Pier in Portland. They said goodbye to their families, piled into a van, and set off on Saint Joseph’s first-ever Environmental Science Semester (ESS).

Led by environmental science professors Johan Erikson and Greg Teegarden, ESS was a nine-week program for sophomore and junior environmental science and marine science majors. Every aspect of it—from the lab reports to reading assignments—took place off campus.

“Students studied environmental science for two months straight,” says Erikson. “They were eating and sleeping it, too. The experiential and conceptual connections were transformative.”

Students started off the semester in eastern Maine, traveling up the coast to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada. From there, they traveled to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, then to central and southern coastal Maine, ending with two weeks on the Gulf of Maine aboard the historic schooner Bagheera.

By the second week of October, students had hands-on lessons about atmospheric circulation patterns, phytoplankton blooms, glacier movements, beach transects, and more. Of course, they also got plenty of practice hiking, sailing on the open ocean, eating blueberries, and figuring out the logistics of fitting eight college students and their luggage and science equipment into one van.

For photos and more about ESS, visit the group’s blog: