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Whales, Microplastics, and Pika - An EPI Alum's Journey

On EPI’s list of Super-Alums, Victoria Anderson just may be at the top. It was EPI’s Baja Whale Ecology course offered by Hamline University that ultimately made Victoria decide to pursue her master's degree at Hamline over other colleges with similar degree offerings. When she heard that students in the Environmental Education and Natural Sciences program would be taking a trip to Mexico to partner with whale conservation scientists, she couldn’t imagine a program better suited to her interests in experiential environmental education.

“I desperately wanted to see whales up close! I have a lot of field experience on land, but I’ve never had the opportunity to learn about marine ecosystems. I could not have been more excited for my EPI course.”

The trip to Mexico, quite literally, blew her hopes and expectations out of the water. The students were complete strangers before their trip, making Victoria nervous as to whether or not they'd get along. The students didn't just get along but left with life-long bonds that felt more familial than anything else. Close-up, emotional interactions with 40-tonne grey whales and seaside nights under stars unobstructed by light pollution will do that to a group!

Victoria's time in Baja inspired and redirected her professional development track. After returning home, Victoria reconnected with Ecomigrations, the whale research team her group partnered with in Mexico. Now, Victoria is developing an educational audio guide for tourists to listen to when driving from the Los Cabos airport to the Ecomigrations’ facility, which is roughly a three-hour drive. The hope is that the guide will offer ecological context on the west coast of Baja before arriving on-site, offering a well-rounded, educational experience that goes beyond whale watching.

While boating beside marine giants was nothing short of astonishing, it was the microscopic side of the research that affected Victoria the most. Seeing a 1:1 ratio of microplastic to phytoplankton under a microscope exemplified the global plastic crisis in real-time. This unfortunate and disturbing discovery inspired Victoria to craft her master’s thesis around the effects of microplastics on ecosystems, a plan she didn’t have prior to her EPI course.

Lucky for us and Victoria, her EPI journey isn’t over! She will be attending our Colorado Professional Development course this summer, as supported by Hamline to count toward credits needed for her to graduate next spring. Victoria plans to use the knowledge from her Baja and Colorado courses to be an environmental educator herself one day. We can’t imagine someone more prepared for the job, and can’t wait to follow her on this journey!



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