J-Term Students Travel the World in the Name of Science

URI CELS Students thanking BFAR Officials
CELS students and professor Michael Rice meet with Philippine officials on their J-term trip

Students and faculty from the College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) traveled to the islands of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Bonaire this January in the name of science. Their expeditions were part of J-term, a mini semester that takes place during winter break and gives students the opportunity to gain a global perspective by studying science abroad.

CELS Students visit an active Indonesian volcano over J-term. Students wear masks to protect them from the sulfur gases.

“I signed up for this J-term trip not for the credits, but for the once in a lifetime experience,” recounts undergraduate Kenny Chea, a student in the Philippine Aquatic Food Production class. Chea and five fellow students gained hands-on experience understanding the Philippine government’s approach to sustainable seafood production during their four weeks abroad. They toured production facilities, harvested fish for breeding, met with local officials, and sampled the cuisine. “Why not explore another country for the first time while learning something relevant to my major?” reflects Chea of his experience abroad discussing fisheries issues.

Undergraduate Kevin Almond, who participated in the Indonesia-based Balinese Temples, Komodo Dragons, and Liquid Hot Magma class in Indonesia, reflects that J-term “opened my eyes to so many new ideas and perspectives that I would never have considered beforehand.” Almond and his class studied the environmental, cultural, and geologic conditions in Indonesia, led by CELS professors Nancy Karraker and Thomas Boving.

Karraker and Boving led the class on a hike up a 9,000-foot Indonesian volcano to better understand geologic hazards and human conditions. Inside the active volcano, miners carried out 150 pound blocks of sulfur by hand without any protective equipment. “The sheer endurance of those miners working under truly hellish conditions inside an active volcano for very little money struck a nerve with students,” notes Boving. The group also traveled by boat to observe the migration of 100,000 enormous fruit bats, and understand the biology of other animals such as the 3-meter long komodo dragon, a species of conservation concern.

night dive entry
CELS students on the Bonaire-based J-term trip take a nighttime dive to study coral reef ecology.

In the Caribbean island of Bonaire, ten students investigated how scuba divers impact coral reef health, as well as case studies for how to best manage coral reef ecosystems. “Bonaire is one of the most popular destinations for dive tourism,” explains CELS Professor Graham Forrester, who led the Coral Reef Conservation and Analysis class. Understanding strategies for protecting the reefs while still allowing fishing recreation and tourism is important to the economy of Bonaire. Students learned about these strategies while scuba diving in the clear Caribbean waters each day. When not underwater, students hiked the island and interviewed local conservation rangers.

The CELS J-Term classes offer students the opportunity to see new sights, experience new cultures, and gain new skills all while advancing their education. Marine biology major, Alison Frey, who traveled to the Philippines, agrees, “I had the time of my life and learned so much!”