Program Details

Location: Anchorage, Alaska

Dates: Summer 2019: June 28–August 11, 2019

Accommodations:  Primarily camping, occasional youth hostel or rural lodge

Credits: 15 quarter credits or 10 semester credits

Language: English instruction

Courses: ESCI 437A, ESCI 437B, ESCI 437C

Prerequisites: One college level course of ecology or similar,
18 years of age

Program Costs

Alaska Summer 2019
$    150    Application Fee
$   5,500    Program Fee
$   3,500    Estimated In-Country Group Fee
$   1,000    Estimated Airfare
$  1,300    Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending

$11,450    Total Estimated Cost
Summer 2019: Program fees due by May 1, 2019


The Program

Join us as we explore the fundamental aspects of species adaptation and undeniable climate change in one of America’s last frontiers – Alaska. Renowned for its wondrous mountains, extensive wildlife and resilient Native peoples, Alaska provides the perfect opportunity to collectively study geography, geology, climatology, habitat specialization, wildlife management, and environmental conservation. We will travel from mountain to coast, and back again, to gain insight on Alaska’s diverse ecosystems, the species they support, and the challenges each face.

Our program will start with a focus on the geography and climate of Alaska, providing students with a strong knowledge of the local natural history. We will visit national parks on the Kenai Peninsula, one of the premier spots to study marine mammals and glacial ecology. Visited by thousands of people each year, we will delve into the impact of Alaska’s growing tourism on local wildlife, specifically evaluating how ecotourism affects marine life and conservation policy. By exploring both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, team members will learn about habitat specialization and species adaptation.

Next, we will turn our field studies east to the largest national park in the US, Wrangell-St. Elias. Here we will learn how species interact on a community level. Undertaking a multi-day backcountry field study, students will gain an understanding of how larger mammals have managed to survive in Alaska and potential threats to this amazing wilderness area. As we travel throughout the southeastern portion of the state, we will continue our exploration on the impacts of climate change on Alaskan ecosystems and wildlife communities. We will examine the consequences of rising temperatures, glacial melt, and sea level change, and how these impact species migration, forest carbon dynamics and relocation of Native peoples. As a team, and through interactions with local experts, we will learn about current mitigation strategies and how we might contribute to local efforts.

Throughout this program, students will have the opportunity to work with local scientists and conservation organizations to gain a deeper understanding of scientific practices and ecological field sampling techniques. We will also engage with local community groups enabling students to learn about the Native Alaskan culture and way of life. By the end of the program, students will be well versed in species adaptation, climate change concerns and efforts being made to conserve modern day Alaska.

Program Photo Gallery


More Details






Benita Carmen Laird-Hopkins

Lead instructor


Benita is an ecologist whose research focused on how changes in tree diversity affects litter decomposition, soil respiration and insect community composition. Her interests also include marine ecosystems, and conservation and restoration ecology. Benita has worked in multiple tropical locations, from Thailand to Panama to Guam. She has spent considerable time in Cuba, living on a farm and traveling throughout the country learning about the native wildlife and culture. Benita has taught field courses in Panama and the United Kingdom and will be leading the Alaska, Cuba and Pacific Islands programs starting in 2019.

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Joe Sapp



Joe is a behavioral ecologist with research interests in sociality, cooperation, conflict, and animal societies. He has directed the bulk of his training and scientific curiosity on insects, especially ants, but has promiscuous taxonomic interests, having conducted field research on creatures as diverse as birds, mammals, fish, and snails. His graduate work examined the intercolonial intraspecific interactions of socially parasitic ants (Polyergus mexicanus) that rely on kidnapped worker ants from their host species to keep their colonies running. He is awed by both the biodiversity and behavioral diversity of insects and their societies, and does everything he can to transmit entomology fever to any student that he meets. Joe has participated in many field-based research courses that have taken him to California, Arizona, Panama, Costa Rica, and Tanzania. Joe first taught for Wildlands Studies in the 2014 Argentina course. He will teach in the 2019 Spring Australia course and lead the 2020 Chile course.