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UMPI, PIHS students get experiential learning opportunity on Hurricane Island

Local students from the University of Maine at Presque Isle and Presque Isle High School have been able to take part in the experiential learning opportunity of a lifetime thanks to an anonymous donor and an island center off the coast of Maine focused on science and leadership-based activities.

UMPI was initially contacted in Fall 2022 by John Van Dis from the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students that would be provided free of charge through an anonymous benefactor. The invitation was for students to spend a week on Hurricane Island in Penobscot Bay getting first-hand experience with the scientific process, working with a research team on aquaculture projects, and investigating marine debris from microplastics and other learning opportunities with a focus on sustainability, climate change, and environmental justice. As part of the experience, all lodging, meals, and activities were provided.

Two UMPI students were the first to venture to the island in August 2023 and they agree that it was an unforgettable experience. UMPI junior Victoria Raeihle was originally an Environmental Science major but has since added a minor in Education to her degree path after her experience on the island as a mentor to high school students.

“I decided on Hurricane Island that I wanted to become a scientific educator,” Raeihle said. “I really wanted to be a researcher at first, but I don’t think the whole ‘field work, lab work, write stuff’ flow is right for me. I took a big mentorship role with the high school students on the island. I remember there was one night that made me realize that I wanted to become an educator. One of the staff members came running into the building and asked us if we had been outside to see the moon that night. I gathered all the kids, we went out and looked at the full moon, and we talked about the king tide and what it is and how it works. We need that hands-on experience for students, where they are looking at the moon and talking about it rather than just sitting in a classroom or looking at photos of it in a book.”

“It’s hard to choose a favorite part of this trip because the whole thing was so amazing,” UMPI student Sierra Bryant said. “I loved how hands-on it was. We got to dissect scallops, haul lobster traps, test water quality, learn about aquaculture, look at plankton and so much more. Exploring the island and its shores is definitely near the top of my list. There are hiking trails all over the island with amazing views. Honestly, I was skeptical about the whole trip at first, but I am so glad that I went. I’ve never done anything like it before. I fell in love with the island and the people. It was definitely a positive experience!”

On the heels of that adventure, in mid-October 2023, a larger group that included approximately 20 Presque Isle High School students and 2 UMPI Education majors traveled to Hurricane Island.

“I learned from the staff members and their unique teaching methods, which gave me a greater understanding that teachers do not just need to be in the classroom,” Joey Doll, a first-year Education student at UMPI, said. “This trip stood out to me the most because it solidified my career aspirations, and I am more determined to achieve my dream.”

“Hurricane Island was a life-changing experience that allowed me to learn and grow outside of the confines of a classroom,” Morgan House, a PIHS senior, said. “The environment on the island encouraged not only learning, but personal growth. I left the island feeling connected with my peers and built relationships that wouldn’t have been otherwise possible at PIHS. You truly cannot place a number on the value of a hands-on education. I will be forever grateful to the donor who made this trip possible.”

Educators are equally grateful for the island experience gifted to these students.

“These experiences have the potential to change the lives of students and to broaden their minds as to what careers and passions are available to them and what those look like in their authentic environments,” Dr. Sarah Bushey, UMPI’s Extended Opportunities Coordinator, said.

Plans are in the works for another batch of students to visit Hurricane Island this summer, from July 15-19. The hope is to have 10 participating UMPI students and there is an option to earn college credit through this experience. For more information about Hurricane Island, visit www.hurricaneisland.net. For information about UMPI’s Extended Learning Opportunity program, contact Dr. Bushey at sarah.bushey1@maine.edu. To learn more about UMPI’s next adventure to Hurricane Island, contact Shannon Sleeper at shannon.sleeper@maine.edu.