The arrival of Spring on the Outer Banks each year brings a complete transformation to the area. Local towns seemingly come to life after a dull gray winter of seclusion. Likewise, the Spring semester on the ECU Outer Banks Campus offers rejuvenation and new opportunities to students looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Greenville.

The ECU Undergraduate Semester Experience at the Coast is offered annually on the ECU Outer Banks Campus. The program boasts of small class sizes, scenic views, and an opportunity to slow life’s busy pace; but more importantly, it allows students from all years and majors to pursue hands-on, interdisciplinary coastal studies and experiences through coursework, field trips, independent research, and internships.

This spring, fourteen students gathered at the coast. Classes they have opted to take include Environmental Anthropology with Dr. David Griffith, Biodiversity in North Carolina with Dr. Jim Morley, Survey of Coastal and Marine Resources with Dr. Sid Narayan, Society and the Sea Seminar with Dr. Nadine Heck, Oceanography with Dr. Qubin Qin, and Analysis Techniques & Methods of Coastal Ocean Research with Dr. Mike Muglia.

Students participating in the Seminar in Coastal Studies visited a different Outer Banks staple each Thursday. Above they are pictured at the Elizabethan Gardens.

Julie Kirn, the Semester Experience at the Coast coordinator, also leads the entire group on a field trip to an iconic Outer Banks site each week as part of the Seminar in Coastal Studies.

While some of the students had already decided to pursue a science or coastal-related degree, the program has opened new doors and considerations for others.

Rowan Evans, a junior Environmental Studies major, grew up in Ocean Isle, NC. He has his grandfather to thank for fostering his passion for marine life and coastal issues; and participating in the Semester Experience at the Coast was a no-brainer for him. While he expected to learn more about the coast while here, one thing he did not anticipate was the number of connections he would make while here. Meeting so many like-minded people has been one of his favorite things about the program.

“I have formed very close relationships with my classmates, roommates, and members of the CSI community. I [also] wasn’t expecting to gain so many career connections during my stay at the coast. I have made many beneficial relationships during my stay here, and I am eternally grateful for it.”

Rowan Evans (right) enjoyed his semester at the coast with like-minded classmates.

Aside from his coursework, Evans has thoroughly enjoyed his internship at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island. There he works with the Animal Husbandry team. He regularly assists with food prep and feedings, enclosure cleaning, and animal behavior monitoring. His experiences at the aquarium have led him to set a goal of continuing this line of work in the future.

Evans is an incredibly enthusiastic about the program and recognizes the many benefits of participating in it, stating, “This has been an unforgettable experience from the very beginning. I am blessed to have the opportunity to learn so many beneficial things from a surplus of amazing people. I am honored to be a student at the Coastal Studies Institute, and I wish it never had to end.”

While Evans spent his entire life near the beach, Bree Pelletier grew up inland but spent summers in New England. She believes that being up there, less than an hour from both the mountains and the ocean, kindled her intrigue of natural environments. Thus, she was drawn to the program, particularly for the field experiences offered through the Seminar in Coastal Studies.

Pelletier’s background and experiences in the program differ from Evans’. She is a freshman studying Exercise Physiology and is enrolled in the coastal studies seminar and an internship here at the beach. The rest of her courses are online. Her internship as an education and horticulture intern the Elizabethan Gardens, and the places she’s visited on field trips has made her consider additional options as she furthers her studies and chooses a career.

At the Elizabethan Gardens, Pelletier’s duties vary day to day, but some of her favorite responsibilities include giving tours of the grounds, learning about ethnobotany- or the cultural ties between humans, plants, and animals-, and leading young children’s programs. Among her favorite field trips is a visit to the NC Coastal Federation where she learned about the benefits of oyster reefs, both environmentally and economically, to the area.

From the program, Pelletier says she has gained friendships, a broader knowledge base, and a clearer vision for the future.

“Some students, like me, come solely for the experiences this program offers. I don’t have a coastal-related field of study, and I didn’t intend to change it. Yet, with so many different people and experiences here, it seems like the program truly does have something to offer everyone,” she shares.

Bree Pelletier leads a painted lady butterfly release at the Elizabethan Gardens. As part of her internship, she led educational programs which included one about the importance of pollinator species.

Like Evans, she too appreciates the variety of people she has met and the connections she has made through the program.

Though the 2024 Semester Experience at the Coast recently ended, the friendships, connections, and experiences won’t soon fade from the students’ memories. Wherever they go in the years to come, many will surely say that their time at the coast was a stepping stone in their ongoing academic and future professional careers.

The preceding story first appeared in the Spring 2024 edition of CoastLines.

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.