Audrey Cardwell `20 Reflects on Sea Semester Program

Audrey Caldwell Aboard SSV Robert C. Seamans

Audrey Cardwell is a 2020 graduate of Brevard College who majored in Environmental Studies and minored in Math. During her senior year, Audrey participated in the Sea Semester Program and gained experiential learning opportunities she says she couldn’t have experienced in a classroom. Of the Sea Semester Program, Audrey said, “It’s not your typical study abroad experience. You have the opportunity to put yourself in a new environment and grow as a person. From sailing to oceanography research, you’re able to learn things that you aren’t able to in a classroom.” 

The Sea Semester is part of the Sea Education Association (SEA) Oceans and Climates program, an intensive program designed to allow upper-level science students to develop their understanding of the ocean’s role in climate dynamics and to build their own toolkits in research data visualization, and science communication. According to a 2021 SEA press release, “Brevard College student Audrey Cardwell is among a select group of 21 undergraduates from diverse U.S. institutions who are spending this semester on a blue water ocean expedition from California to Hawai’i. Their goal is to study one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century: human impacts on the environment.”

Accredited through Boston University, SEA is based on Cape Cod in the oceanographic research community of Woods Hole, Massachusetts and owns two research vessels: the SSV Corwith Cramer, operating in the Atlantic Ocean, and the SSV Robert C. Seamans, operating in the Pacific. The program consists of two six-week courses, the first of which is based onshore in order to prepare students for their trip. Due to COVID-19, the second semester was postponed until November 2021, when the students arrived aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, SEA’s state-of-the-art 134-foot brigantine, on Catalina Island, California, to begin a five-and-a-half week voyage ending December 23rd in Honolulu, Hawai’i. There were no port stops and onboard were 21 students as well as crew members.

While studying in the Sea Semester program, Audrey’s favorite academic topics were oceanography, ocean and marine life, and bioluminescence – a biochemical light emission from deep-sea fishes. Audrey shared her favorite memory from the Sea Semester program, explaining, “For two hours, several humpback whales were circling our boat. It was terrifying but also neat to see the whales up close and in their element.” Audrey continued, “It was great being a part of a community that cares about the environment and is just so inspiring.” 

Reflecting on her time at Brevard College, Audrey credits the experiential learning model with preparing her for the Sea Semester program. She said, “Experiential education being at the heart of all my BC classes prepared me in so many ways for this trip and made me feel at ease knowing I had the tools to succeed in that environment.”