Not many students can say they are gaining hands-on experience, learning interdisciplinary skills, making lifelong friends, and studying all while at the beach. Yet at the Coastal Studies Institute on East Carolina University’s Outer Banks Campus, ECU students from many different majors, including Biology, Environmental Studies, Geology, Psychology, Anthropology, Geography, Marketing, and Criminal Justice, gather at the coast to have an unforgettable semester experience on the Outer Banks.

From the Beginning

First impressions are almost always intimidating. However, the pressure is off with the way the Department of Coastal Studies’ (DCS) Semester Experience at the Coast Program is designed. Faculty and staff from DCS, ECU’s Department of Biology, and CSI spend the students’ first week of classes by taking the group around the Outer Banks to experience the unique ecosystems and culture of the area. Each day brings with it a new field trip and focus. During the week-long tour, the students learn what to expect as professors share how each location relates to their own research and course design. For those who have never visited the Outer Banks, the field trips offer a great way to explore the island and become familiar with the place they will call home for the semester.

“Going on the field trips the first week with Dr. Lagomasino was a great introduction to the Outer Banks, and it outlined how coastal processes impact coastal communities. I enjoyed learning about sediment sizes and how they correlate with longshore transport along the Outer Banks,” says senior geography major Luke Hutson.

The 2023 Semester Experience at the Coast brought together sixteen undergraduates from a variety of different majors and class years.

For one of their field trips, Dr. Jim Morley took students to the Roanoke Island Aquarium to learn about coastal marine organisms and complete an interactive worksheet on biology.

Other perks

Aside from allowing students to live near the beach, the semester-long program on the Outer Banks campus has other advantages too. Through its small class sizes, the program gives students the opportunity to have a unique one-on-one experience with professors and classmates. These experiences are advantageous to students as they lead to stronger relationships with researchers and professors and offer students a space to share different ideas and problem-solving techniques.

Internships are another advantage that comes with the Semester Experience at the Coast. In addition to the courses students can take, there are also opportunities for them to participate in a semester-long internship either at CSI or with one of their community partners.

One such experience was Julia Callender’s internship with the education and outreach team at CSI. With their guidance, she gained skills to plan and prepare for K-12 programs and work with students. She even also learned a little about photography and helped document the undergraduate students’ time at the coast.

“This internship opened up my eyes to how important student education is and makes me want to pursue scientific learning in the future with special education,” shared Callender.

Another student, Owen Bergquist (pictured), interned with the North Carolina Coastal Federation. There, Owen worked with the staff in Wanchese to assist with oyster reef maintenance, outreach, and other various volunteer opportunities in Wanchese and on the Outer Banks.

“Working with this organization taught me a ton about how important oysters are to our coastal ecosystem and the people that live here. I have a newfound appreciation for the people who work to protect our coasts and keep them healthy,” reflected Bergquist.

Public education and outreach were among the common themes for Spring 2023 internships. Lulea Adams, Kaitlyn Rhodes, and Bryce Berwick each found their internship home at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island (NCARI). They experienced what it was like to care for aquatic animals and understand specific species and habitats. They then conveyed this knowledge during public programs at the aquarium.

“Working with NCARI has taught me the importance of the conservation of marine life. This has been a phenomenal opportunity to learn about beautiful aquatic life and educate the public on the importance of conservation,” said Adams.

While many of the students learned about the importance of ecosystems and shared that with others in the community, there were a few who chose a research-focus internship instead. Taniya Johnson and Thomas Shelton spent their internships collecting water samples from sites in Nags Head and performing water quality-related data analysis.

Water quality is directly tied to the surrounding environment and can also impact human health. Using technology such as remote sensing and parameter data, Johnson and Shelton, along with their mentors from ECU’s Water Resources Center, were able to evaluate the water quality to ensure it was suitable for human living conditions around the island.

Thinking about his future, Shelton remarked, “This experience has introduced me to an interest in hydrology and a potential job outlook, which is really important to me.”

At the end of the semester, the students that participated in internships gave presentations to their peers, faculty, and staff at CSI about what they did, what they learned, and how their futures will be impacted by their experiences.

“Hearing how much some of them learned during their internships made it hard to believe they only lasted four months. These students put in a ton of effort this semester and it was exciting to see how much it paid off – some of them even think they have found their career paths,” says Julie Kirn, a University Program Associate who helps to organize the program each year.

So, what’s the big deal?

Students Colby Bond and Lulea Adams work together to collect water quality data from Croatan Sound.

Though not all students participated in research internships, all were exposed to the scientific method and study designs through their courses. As previously mentioned, a unique aspect of this DCS program that makes it stand out is the number of field experiences students can attend. Not only do the students receive time to explore curious places such as Avon, Rodanthe, Corolla, Oregon Inlet, and Buxton, but they also are able to gather data from sites all around them. The data they collect themselves can be taken back to CSI and helps form their class experiences moving forward, meaning each semester is unique from the next.

For those looking for a change of pace, a chance to learn about the environment, and an opportunity for hands-on work, the Semester Experience at the Coast is a great choice. The stretching of comfort zones, the interactions in a small class setting, and the brief respite from the Greenville campus to be at the beach are not only great experiences but they are also guaranteed to help build lifelong memories.

A special thank you to Julia Callender for her contributions to this story.

Led by East Carolina University (ECU), The Coastal Studies Institute is a multi-institutional research and educational partnership of the UNC System including North Carolina State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Wilmington, and Elizabeth City State University.



Based at the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI), the North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program (NCROEP) advances inter-disciplinary marine energy solutions across UNC System partner colleges of engineering at NC State University, UNC Charlotte, and NC A&T University.  Click on the links below for more information.




ECU's Integrated Coastal Programs (ECU ICP) is a leader in coastal and marine research, education, and engagement.   ECU ICP includes the Coastal Studies Institute, ECU's Department of Coastal Studies, and ECU Diving and Water Safety.


The faculty and staff at the Coastal Studies Institute come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, as well as departments and organizations including ECU Department of Biology, ECU Department of Coastal Studies, NC Sea Grant, the North Carolina Renewable Energy Program, and the UNC Institute for the Environment.


Tour the ECU Outer Banks Campus and learn about the research, education, and engagement projects of CSI and ECU Integrated Coastal Programs through our 360 virtual tour.


The ECU Outer Banks campus is home to the Coastal Studies Institute.
Located on Roanoke Island along the banks of the second largest estuary
in the United States, this coastal campus spans 213 acres of marshes, scrub wetlands, forested wetlands, and estuarine ecosystems.