Summer science 

SPU students share experience of living, taking classes on the island, the transformative nature of Blakely

Blakely Island in the summer is a unique experience, but unless students are part of the biology department, it can be hard to find information about what the experience is really like.  

Ashley Goss, a cellular and molecular biology major, is a senior at SPU who went to Blakey in the summer of 2023 to take Environmental Physiology with Dr. Wall-Scheffler. She broke down what a typical day on the island looked like for her class.  

“It is a five credit academic class, lab class included. We would start off the morning, have breakfast, and go to class in the laboratory classroom for a couple of hours. We would take quizzes based on the readings we had to do. And then about every day we would leave the classroom to go out into the environment to do some sort of interactive lab,” she said. 

Tidepool creatures found while doing lab work (Courtesy of Ashley Goss).  

Goss also spoke about the variety of different labs she and her classmates participated in.

“One day we went to tidal pools and we observed different species within the tidal pools, which correlated to one of the readings we had done about how intertidal regions are really hard for species to overcome and adapt to,” Goss said. 

But this was by no means the only lab they completed. Goss shared a story from the island about a lab gone wrong.  

“We did a lab with plants looking at stomatas. So, we got to go out and collect our own plant that we wanted to look at. We dispersed based on what we were looking at to come back to the lab to run it with nail polish,” Goss said. 

Students completing the fern project in the lab. (Courtesy of Ashley Goss).

“We collected ferns. And we went to the lab thinking, this is going to be so easy. But we spent seven hours in that lab because we could not get it to work. And then we found out that we just happened to pick a really bad species for it where the nail polish doesn’t adhere properly. It was really funny. But at the time we were so distraught,” Goss said. 

For those in other classes, the workload was less intense. Naide Perez, a senior majoring in social justice and cultural studies, took Environmental Biology back in 2022 with Dr. Ferrer. She spoke about the some of the field work that she and her classmates engaged in. 

Canoes from the water lab day (Helen Petersen).

“On the second day we went on a really long hike taking tree samples. The third day was when we took the water samples. When we went canoeing out on the different lakes and took samples to look for organisms and bacteria. That was the best experience by far,” she said. 

Perez also found value in working together with her classmates. 

“We had to do a project where we had to collect a bunch of different plants and identify them. Everybody was in the lab room trying to get their projects done. Especially since most of us weren’t STEM majors, everybody was like, well, this isn’t my field of expertise.  It just made it so much more easier to build those genuine connections. We relied on each other,” Perez said.  

Outside of classwork, students found time to make connections and get to know their peers.  

“We had an unscheduled movie night that we put together for ourselves. Everybody had put their defenses down and was willing to vibe. Some of us were working anxiously to get our projects done. And then others of us had it in the bag. But we were all in the same space enjoying a movie,” Perez said.

Beyond bonding and classwork, some students come away from the summer class experience changed on a deeper level. Ellie Jancola, a senior biology major, is one such person. Jancola has been to Blakely many times, for Conservation Biology and Environmental Physiology.  

“I see Blakely as a place of peace and restoration. It makes me want to go outside more. It makes me sad that I live in Seattle where the green is harder to find and air is not as fresh. But Blakely offers a separation from that and an escape from that. I really appreciate how empty it is,” Jancola said.

Even two years on from her Blakely experience, Perez still highly values the effect that her summer class had on her academically, as she found a new understanding of science while on the island.

“Science has always been a super hard subject for me to approach. It was nice having this different approach to it where you’re actually on the island doing things instead of in a controlled laboratory on campus, trying to simulate outdoor conditions. There’s no other way I would have wanted to learn about environmental science than through that trip,” Perez said.

Whether taking an upper-level science course or a general biology class, going for the second time or the first, taking a class on Blakely Island in the summer is an unforgettable experience which students come back from changed, academically as well as personally.