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. 

End of an era: The fate of the field station plates

Decades long tradition comes to close, but spirit of project lives on.

For decades, Seattle Pacific University students who made the trek to Blakely Island were met at the end of their trip by a red plate. Every class that made their way to the field station in a given year would come up with a slogan and sign that year’s plate. Now that Blakely Island is under new caretakers, that tradition has ended. But the spirit of the project lives on, in the memories of the people who created it and in the minds of the new caretakers.

Cindy Hubbert worked as the caretaker for the Blakely Island Field Station for 22 years alongside her husband Leroy, and it was them that brought the tradition to Blakely. However, it was not something they came up with themselves. In fact, it was something they experienced before they even came to SPU.

“We used to live in a town in South Carolina. My brother-in-law and his wife lived there and we became acquainted with good friends of theirs. We were invited to dinner one evening and our hosts had a red plate placed under another plate at the dinner table.  The person who sat at that place setting was asked to sign the plate. It was their way of showing them, over time, who all had come to their home! I always thought that was a great way to remember,” Hubbert said.

The red plate from 2001 (Courtesy of Peg Achterman).

It was that memory which inspired the Hubberts to implement a similar practice on Blakely.

“When we were hired to work at the field station, I thought about that special plate, for those who had visited our friends home, and wondered how that might work at our ‘home’ on the island. I, unfortunately, didn’t think about it quick enough, that first year we were there, to get one.  But every year after that I made sure I had a special red plate for each group to think of something to say and have a classmate write it on the plate,” Hubbert said.

Once students found out about the tradition, demand spread quickly.

The red plate from 2004 with class slogans (Courtesy of Peg Achterman).

“It got to where I was asked, at the end of every group, if they would get to sign the red plate.  It was always a lot of fun to see what each group would say,” Hubbert said.

Given the special place that the plates held for Hubbert and the fact that she and her husband started the tradition, when they retired in 2022, Hubbert recalled a choice she had to make.

“When we were retiring, I was asked if I wanted to take the plates with me. I had thought it would be fun to have them and remember what each group wrote over the years, but it just did not seem right to take them from the field station,” she said.

And so, the plates remained at the Blakely Island field station. But once the new caretakers arrived, it became clear that the tradition would have to come to an end.

Brian Rodda and his wife Deb arrived as the new caretakers in 2022, but by the time they got to the field station, there were no more blank plates. Soon after, a surprise visit from the fire marshal spelled the end of the tradition.

“I talked to the previous caretakers and the story goes that when they started the tradition they brought up a large heavy glass case from the lab, put it along the wall, and put all the plates in there. But, as it turns out, the case blocked the light switch and part of the door and the fire marshall said we had to move it,” Rodda said.

Once they realized the safety concern, the they were faced with a difficult decision, Rodda recalled.

“What are we gonna do with all these plates? How are we gonna find a place to store them that’s safe? So we decided that maybe we wouldn’t continue the tradition. But that’s hard because you feel bad. We don’t want to let anybody down,” Rodda said.

Various plates from over the years next to the container in which they are stored (Courtesy of Peg Achterman).

Currently, according to Rodda, the plates are all stored in a plastic container in the storage room of the dormitory. Regarding this storage method, Rodda noted that as new caretakers, they have a lot on their plates already.

“It would be nice to display the plates in the lab, but there are other projects that require our attention first,” Rodda said.

The Blakely Island guestbooks (Helen Petersen).

However, not everything from the old days of the field station has gone away. Amid the towering shelves of books in the dining pavilion, placed on side tables beside plushy seats are the Blakely Island guestbooks. Dating back to 1992, these books have seen many groups come and go. However, the most recent signature was from last April, so there’s potential for a revival yet.

“We love the old guest books but it doesn’t seem to resonate with this generation of students, so we haven’t purchased a new one. We’re totally open to buying a new one  and see who fills it out this summer,” Rodda said.