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From Hawai‘i to Alaska: One Student’s Summer to Remember

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 01/19/2010 More stories >>

Morgan

CTAHR student Robert Morgan flashes a "shaka" from the frozen tundra of Nunivak Island, Alaska.

Some of the most valuable and enduring student learning experiences happen outside the classroom, sometimes outside the state. Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences undergraduate Robert Morgan can attest to that. Thanks to CTAHR and a partner institution, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, Morgan enjoyed a memorable summer on Alaska’s Nunivak Island. Funded by a USDA-NIFA Alaska Native-Serving and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions Grant, he earned university credits while enjoying an unforgettable time.

It started with a two-day voyage from Honolulu and a day’s orientation in Bethel, Alaska. After a flight to Mekoryuk, Nunivak Island, and a boat ride on the Bering Sea, Morgan found himself in Nash Harbor, Nunivak Island, one of the earliest settlements of Alaska’s Nuniwarmiut people. The UA Fairbanks course began with a daily lecture emphasizing the native flora of Alaska. Every day was an ethnobotanical adventure!

At a picturesque training camp where a river spilled into a protected bay, Morgan learned some of the essentials of Alaskan culture and life, including hiking techniques, food preparation, basket weaving, and fishing. “The camp’s accommodations were very comfortable and close to nature, with semi-permanent Weatherport tents for lodging, a separate kitchen tent, a teaching tent with Internet connection, two maqii (traditional steam baths), and stylish outhouses,” Morgan recalled.

The curriculum was intense, and the advantage of living on the tundra and collecting plant specimens daily helped Morgan get a good idea of what a botanist’s career would be like. He reports spotting an amazing range of wildlife—more than 80 species of migratory sea birds, foxes hunting, and reindeer and muskoxen roaming and grazing. A far cry from Hawai‘i!

“Mahalo to CTAHR, in affiliation with USDA, for sending UH Manoa students around the world to witness such amazing flora and fauna in their natural, undisturbed habitats,” says Morgan. “This was the most exciting scholarship ‘field trip’ to date, not to mention all of the great friends and acquaintances that I now have.” For more information on the Alaska Native-Serving and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions Education Grants, see www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/agincubator.