University of South Carolina

Kirsten Selvig

What I Did This Summer: Combine science and sailing

"What I Did This Summer" follows a number of University of South Carolina students this summer as they work, travel, and explore the world. Many of them are blogging about their adventures. This is the tenth story in the series.


It pays to read the posters on campus. Just ask Kirsten Selvig.

In spring 2009, a poster taped onto a wall in the Earth and Water Sciences building caught her attention -- it was about a program called SEA Semester, an eight-week field program in marine and environmental studies sponsored by Sea Education Association (SEA).

Kirsten Selvig
Kirsten Selvig

And, the poster read, they were looking for students to participate.

Selvig, an Honors College senior majoring in history with a minor in French, was intrigued.

"I really like maritime history so the idea of sailing was really attractive," said Selvig, who is from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. "For most of our recorded history, it's how we traveled about the world. So when I saw the poster I thought the idea of doing science projects and learning about the ocean while you sailed was just awesome."

Through the SEA program, students work with scientists to design a project on shore at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and then implement it at sea during a four-week sail from Hawaii to San Francisco.

Selvig figured she first needed to learn a little to more about the science, so she signed up for Dr. Ron Benner's marine science honors class for an introduction to the ocean.

Ron Benner
Ron Benner

"I took it because I knew I was going on the trip, and that class gave me so much information that was really helpful," she said.

Once at Woods Hole this summer, other scientists helped her develop a project. The plan was to attempt to find the ratio between photosynthetic microbes and consumer microbes, and see how the dynamic played out at different water depths.

"They knew a lot of the students in the SEA program were not very science-y," she said. "They gave us a lot of help getting the details down."

Selvig was one of 38 people on board the 135-foot Robert C. Seamans, a ship that was built specifically for SEA with oceanography research equipment aboard. The 26 students came from all over the world.

Aboard the ship, students collected data and recorded their research. They also learned how to sail a tall ship. By the final week and a half at sea, the students were the junior watch officers, making decisions about the sailing and the research gathering under the direction of the professional staff and the captain.

"That's the character building and leadership aspect of it," she said.

Along with the science and the sailing, the summer experience helped Selvig learn about the type of leader she hopes to be.

"The staff of SEA were really good people," she said. "They were helpful and always there for you. That was the most incredible thing. We had a number of 20-hour days; everybody had sleep deprivation. But the captain and all the staff handled those living conditions so well. That was the biggest thing for me -- to see people who could handle that kind of stress and still be patient and helpful."

And the most fun part?

"We were able to sail with no motor power under the Golden Gate Bridge. That's something I'll remember for a long, long time," Selvig said. "Gliding under the bridge was really beautiful."

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 08/18/10 @ 11:00 AM | Updated: 12/09/10 @ 3:55 PM | Permalink