When Julie Ann Howlett ’09 realized she had missed the deadline to apply to study abroad this past summer, she knew she would have to think outside the box to find a rewarding academic experience that offered at least the feel of being in an exotic locale.
“I thought, ‘Where can I go in the United States that would be really different and I could study biology?’” Howlett said.
And so Howlett, a biology major/psychology minor with a love of environmental sciences and the ocean, decided to study at a marine biology program in one of the country’s furthermost reaches: the University of Hawaii in Hilo. Howlett took part in the university’s Island Summer Package program, during which she spent six weeks living on the Big Island, taking the courses Natural History of Sharks, Rays, and Skates and Introduction to Coral Reefs.
“Even though [the program] was still in the United States, it was just as much of a ‘study abroad’ experience as anywhere else, because I was immersed in a totally different culture,” Howlett said.
She said one of the highlights of her trip was participating in a sea turtle–tagging study, which was filmed by PBS Nature for an upcoming documentary. The study was conducted on Punalu’u Beach, a black sand beach on the Big Island. According to Howlett, teams of two to three people went into the water with snorkels, masks, and fins to find sea turtles to bring to shore for measuring.
“It was a study of growth and development and the lifespan of turtles in that area,” she said. “A lot of marine biology is really not very well understood, it’s such a vast habitat… so any information we could get was very helpful.”
Howlett’s experience in Hawaii affirmed her belief that she wants to further her study of marine biology in graduate school. She is hoping to attend school in Florida. “I love the weather, and I love being so close to the ocean…. I’d really like to move to an area where that can be accessible to me,” she explained.
Howlett said her experience also helped her discover a potential career: environmental liaison. These liaisons work, for example, with shipping and fishing companies to help officials determine how much fish they can harvest without endangering the population.
“I’ve always had a passion for the environment, and I’ve always cared about the environment,” Howlett said, adding that her summer experience made her realize how she can combine that passion with her background in biology to find a career in which she can make a difference in the world.