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June 8, 2011

The Ocean as Classroom for Psychology & Biology Students: St. Francis Students Spend Spring Break Under the Sea Learning in Virgin Islands

For the last four years, winter break has meant taking another college course for a select group of St. Francis College students; but you won’t hear them complaining. The classroom this winter was the underwater ecosystem, beaches and National Parks of the Virgin Islands.

“There is no better way to learn about marine biology and ecology then witnessing it first hard,” said Chair of the St. Francis College Department of Biology and Health Promotion Kathleen Nolan, who is the inspiration, creator and co-professor for the course Contemporary Topics in Biology: U.S. Virgin Islands. “We’re fortunate that we can bring our students this experience and study the interactions and behaviors of fish, invertebrates and humans in the environment.”

In addition to the field work in the Virgin Islands, the course is supplemented with readings, discussion and other trips in and around New York City.

"This course allowed us to teach in a truly interdisciplinary approach,” said the other co-professor, Psychology Professor Kristy Biolsi who conducts research with sea lions, walruses and seals in Santa Cruz, California and at Riverhead’s Atlantis Aquarium. “We had Biology majors, Psychology majors, Honors students and even a Math major; which really helped us all appreciate different perspectives and made for a more well-rounded course on behavioral ecology ."

In their final papers, students reflected on a variety of experiences. Alexandra Martinez focused on the societal makeup of the island, “As we were driving I noticed the integration of people. You could see African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian people walking around. It’s very interesting to see how so many different types of people now inhabit the island.”

Dark points in the islands history resonated with Megan Caro, “We went to a cliff where slaves jumped off after their rebellion to avoid going back to their masters. It was a long and scary way down, so hard to imagine how poorly these people must have been treated and how they felt when they reached the cliff!”

Living within the environment took some adjusting for Jessica Resso, “I went to the cabin and took my first three minute solar-heated water shower. It was not as bad as I thought; however, a few more minutes would have been wondrous!” While for Marije Jauregui, the course opened her eyes, “This trip has changed my perspective on the ocean. Before it seemed like a vast area of the unknown but now I’m learning more about it and the organisms it houses.”

Beyond academics, the course is also an example of the mission of St. Francis College, to educate the whole person. For Melissa Charles, her own personal achievement was the best lesson of all. “At dinner, the whole time I’m thinking, “oh no. We are going night snorkeling! I don’t want to go night snorkeling! I don’t want to go night snorkeling!” All the groups were crying because the idea of it was so scary. Even though I was scared too, I kept saying, “O.K. M, go and get it over with.” I went in it crying and I came out with a smile on my face. I did it.”

In addition to the Bio/Psych snorkeling course, several dozen other St. Francis College students have enrolled in study abroad programs over the last year or for this summer and the upcoming year to destinations around the world including: Australia; Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga and Seville, Spain; China; Rome and Florence, Italy; Dubai; London, England; Japan; Belgium and even semesters at sea.

“These types of programs add immense value to a student’s college experience,” said Professor Biolsi. “Mixing the academic learning experience with these kinds of unique, life experiences helps everyone develop and mature.”

More information on study abroad programs at St. Francis is available at

Attached photo: (Back row, left to right: Dr. Kristy Biolsi, Dr. Peter Gomori, Richard Conley, Megan Caro, Jessica Russo, Melissa Charles, Noemi Rivera, Patricia Terepka, James Foo, Dr. Kathleen Nolan, Krastina Georgieva. Front Row, left to right: Makwinder Kauer, Sarah Gomori, Michelle Ramnanan, Jessica Ferlito, Alexandra Martinez, Marije Jauregui)

St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City’s five boroughs and beyond.


St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201

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