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What is your name: Bianca Gartner
Major: Environmental Science
Expected graduation date: May 2018

Why did you want to go to the OBX Field Site?
Many reasons! First off, I wanted to do a semester off campus. Same state – different country – didn’t really matter, I just wanted to experience learning in a different setting. As I was looking at different opportunities, the environmental field sites sounded perfect. I specifically chose the OBX because I also wanted to learn about environmental issues through the “human dimension” lens, and my mentors emphasized this one as the right fit. Also – who doesn’t want to spend a semester at the beach!?

What specifically are you doing in OBX?
We’re taking three classroom courses (ecology, coastal management, and environmental economics), a seminar to familiarize ourselves with our study area (the Outer Banks), we each have a different internship around the town (mine is with the local arts council), and finally we’re all doing our capstone together on shoreline protection. As erosive forces start to have a more severe impact on the Outer Banks, different shoreline protection methods are being considered, but our particular focus this semester is living shorelines. Living shorelines are simply defined as a protected and stabilized shorelines made of natural materials such as rocks, plants, or sand. Our major research project throughout the semester, as a group of 13 students, is to look at varying perceptions and installations of living shorelines, and non-living shorelines along the Outer Banks. We’ll all present our findings to the community in which we’re living at the end of the semester. We’re living in the little town of Manteo on Roanoke Island, and in the past, these final field site presentations have been heavily attended by locals, so we have similar hopes for this presentation. That final presentation will be on December 15th.

What has been the most impactful experience you’ve had while in OBX?
My internship is extremely rewarding. As I mentioned, I’m working with the local arts council, the Dare County Arts Council (DCAC), as the coordinator for a program they’re rebooting called the Power of Art. This program is a partnership between DCAC and five other organizations throughout the community. These organizations are ones that help mentally disabled adults and children, victims of domestic abuse, and veterans. The goal of Power of Art is to bring art supplies and classes and teachers to these groups of people and give them a creative outlet, give them a beautiful task, and to give them reassurance that they are important and talented and capable. Being the one responsible for planning these events, and in some cases even being their teacher, is the most rewarding thing I’ve not only done in the OBX, but in my entire life. It really gives perspective, and shows me that art – something I’ve been doing my whole life – has the potential to be so much more than pretty shapes and colors. I’m so happy this is my internship and I can’t wait to continue with it!

What is the biggest lesson you’ve taken away from your experience in OBX?
The biggest lesson I’ve taken so far is to “stop and smell the roses.” At school in Chapel Hill it’s really easy to get caught up in school work and 24 hour Davis sessions and study study study, but here it’s just as important to go and enjoy the place you’re studying. Specifically with environmentally focused coursework – you have to know and love the environment you’re learning about and protecting. For this reason we’ve already taken field trips and paddled over 15 miles so far just enjoying our area and learning meanwhile. It’s also important to have fun with friends, go have campfires on the beach, and also work your academics. Perspective is crucial, and I’m so thankful to have had his opportunity to exercise this lesson.

Do you have any advice for other students who are considering going to the OBX?
Do it. If you don’t want to leave campus – the drive is a few good albums and a stop at Cookout on the way back. I had some reservations at first. I even signed up for my junior fall semester but postponed it to my senior fall because I wanted to be on campus. But now that I’m here, and I’ve seen what I’ve seen, I would have totally regretted not coming. I 110% recommend it.

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