By Laiken Harrigan
Elm Staff Writer
Each year, Washington College accepts twelve students to venture on a journey around 64,000 square miles of the Chesapeake Bay. The students travel through six different states and to Central America to study North America’s largest estuary. The Chesapeake Semester, or Chessemester, is popular at WC, offering the opportunity to learn about the community surrounding the watershed in the form of a hands-on adventure.
This four-course, 16-credit program is offered each fall through the Center for Environment and Society. Each participant researches problems in the ecosystem from an environmental perspective to a political understanding, creating a wide sense of everything impacted by the Chesapeake Bay.
Junior Tiffany Jackson, who is currently participating in the Chesapeake Semester, said, “The Chesapeake is an intensely complex system and, in order to gain a truly holistic understanding of it, you have to study every jagged corner of its waters.”
Instead of classwork, students travel on four different adventures off-campus. In the first journey, students travel for 10-12 days down the Delmarva Peninsula to Baltimore. After, students head to Jamestown and Annapolis to explore different farms and museums to learn about the history surrounding the Chesapeake.
In the second adventure, the students spend nine to 10 days traveling from the mountains of western Maryland to the coastal bays on the Atlantic shoreline. On this trip, students connect with the outdoors through hiking, canoeing and camping.
Later in the semester, students travel to Guatemala and Belize for 12 days to gain a new perspective on the entire culture surrounding the estuary.
Junior Michael Menke participated in the trip this fall.
“In Belize, personally I became close to the locals and our guides, so I was invited multiple times to go spearfishing and spiny lobster hunting,” he said.
In Belize and Guatemala, students compare the ecosystems to others around the continent, while also enjoying hikes and tours throughout towns and mountain regions.
“My favorite thing about the trip was definitely the new landscape. Being an Eastern Shore local, especially one that never leaves home, it was super exciting to see the very different landscape,” Menke said.
On the fourth and final journey of the semester, the students join in for smaller day trips off-campus in order to explore the local issues surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. Students also learn a lot more about the impact of farming and food production on the watershed in this section of the study. They meet with local farmers, environmental advocacy groups, and more to discuss the environmental problems facing the bay.
According to Menke, in order to improve the health of the bay, it takes participation from every state surrounding the water, which is an important reason for traveling and learning about the impact of each community. For students interested in environmental health and law, the Chesapeake Semester is helpful in gaining experience, he said.
Jackson noted that the experience is applicable to any student interested in finding a deeper appreciation for the relationship between how we impact the environment and how it impacts us.
“To future participants, do some of the classwork beforehand because once you’re there, it’s hard to sit down and do the work when surrounded by such an amazing view, culture, and classmates,” Menke said.