From trudging through rain forests at night to snorkeling over the largest coral reef system in the world, students in the Australian Coastal Studies program swap the classroom for the great outdoors. Every fall, up to 48 students learn about the marine biology and ecology of the region, as well as the history and culture of the 118-year-old nation. Each course is taught in a different location along the northeastern coast of Australia. Students engage in extensive field research, conducting ecosystem surveys off Heron Island, studying wallabies in a nature preserve in Far North Queensland and exploring the geology of caves in the Australian Outback.
“It’s a hands-on learning experience that is backed by lab work and field trips,” says Brian Kim, ’19, an environmental systems engineering major. “We weren’t just studying coral bleaching; we were snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, where we saw the effect of environmental degradation and how that was affecting the coral.”
Founded in 2003, Stanford in Australia “is the only overseas program in a quarter that allows for this significant outdoor research,” says Adrian Doyle, associate director for student and academic services for the Bing Overseas Studies Program. “Students really get their hands dirty.” At the end of the quarter, students complete research projects on topics ranging from the influence of stingray foraging on invertebrate communities in tidal flats to the efficacy of the mangrove as a shoreline protector.
For Tamara Mekler, ’17, MS ’18, a human biology major, the real treat was spending her birthday inspecting caves and swimming holes at Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park in Far North Queensland. She remembers lying with her friends on an empty road in the Outback and staring at the night sky. They were scouting for meteors. “Twenty shooting stars for my 20th birthday. I still have never seen such a spectacularly lit sky like I did that night.”