Chesapeake Semester students embark on 12th iteration of program

By Heather Fabritze

Student Life Editor

Washington College students participating in the Center for Environment and Society’s Chesapeake Semester transitioned from orientation week to the formal program at the end of August.

Chesapeake Semester, which runs in the fall semester as a four class, 16 credits course, operates as an interdisciplinary study of the Chesapeake Bay. Students work through the lens of different liberal arts focuses, including the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences. The fourth quarter of the study incorporates all of these topics.

Schedule-wise, it appears as a regular semester of classes with readings, assignments, and discussions. But for approximately one-third of the program, students go out into the field. These field experiences can involve exploration of the Chester and Susquehanna Rivers, archaeological digs, and other labs.

Regardless of the focus of these trips — entitled Journeys by the program leaders and students — all are relevant to real-life problems, according to Research Fleet Program Manager and Chesapeake Semester organizer Benjamin Ford.

“Yes, you’ll learn a lot about the Chesapeake in the Chesapeake Semester,” Ford said. “But the goal is that a lot of these issues that we investigate throughout the Chesapeake Semester are ones that are often universal for people that live within 50 or 100 miles of the coast around the world. And those things are climate change, sea level rise, population growth, natural resource extraction and use, [and] pollution.”

Students have the opportunity to discover the effects of these issues in other places through their study abroad. Every year, Chesapeake Semester participants take part in comparative studies internationally in places such as Peru; Baja, Mexico; and Guatemala.

This year, Belize is the destination of the comparative study. According to Ford, they will be studying topics like farming, fisheries, and the history of Belize’s culture in relation to similar topics in the Chesapeake Bay.

Due to the necessity of travel for Chesapeake Semester, orientation for the program began approximately a week earlier than the academic year. According to Ford, Chesapeake Semester requires the group to be “close knit”  and to work “effectively” together.

Sending students out into the field for a week of orientation allows for them to get to know one another in a similar environment to the remainder of the semester.

“[They] slept on deck, they caught oysters and put them in a tank to see how fast they can filter water…they’ve swam in the Chester River…just kind of general team building so that when we have our first day of classes, we don’t have to do that ‘get to know you’ meet and greet,” Ford said. “It’s like family almost right away.”

The hands-on nature of both orientation and the actual program, as well, is what entices so many students to Chesapeake Semester.

Experiential Programs Assistant Emma Cease ‘22 said that few programs at Washington College can replicate the experience of Chesapeake Semester.

“There isn’t any other program out there that offers such a detailed focus on the Chesapeake Bay watershed with a complete immersion into the learning environment,” Cease said. “Besides learning in an incredible hands-on way, students will have a ton of fun adventures and form bonds with their group and instructors that will last a lifetime.”

Due to the advanced nature of the program, the application process can be selective. References from faculty are considered especially important.

Chesapeake Semester student junior Grayson Barshick recommends that any interested student apply, but to also be aware of the intense courses and time commitment.

“The classes are definitely a little heavy,” Barshick said. “It’s a good course load but overall, I’ve had a very good time.”

Barshick described orientation as a “fun” part of his experience so far and already feels positively about his fellow Chesapeake Semester peers.

Ford, for one, is “feeling great” about the group they cultivated this year.

“They’re really engaged and positive and they’re here for this experience, and I’m really pleased so far,” Ford said. “You know, we still have got four more journeys ahead of us. It’s just going to get busier and more intense as the semester goes on. But I know they can handle it. They’re excited for the challenge and I’m looking forward to seeing that.”

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Ford

Photo Caption: Chesapeake Semester students paddled as far up the Chester River as possible for one of their hands-on experiences.

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