Explore the intersection of climate change and human society… Survey the social and economic impacts of climate change while engaging with stakeholders, community leaders, and policymakers addressing these issues at the local and global levels. Take action toward acquiring the climate leadership and communication skills necessary to be an agent of change. Engage in guided research on shore and aboard a tall ship sailing voyage in coastal and near-coastal open ocean waters.
SEA Semester: Climate & Society
Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions
Sea Education Association (SEA) continues to monitor advice from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, helping to guide our thinking during the COVID-19 pandemic. Detailed mitigation plans are developed for each program individually. Read a sample plan.
A humanities and social sciences semester at sea program that takes a human-centered approach to solving the challenges present by global climate change.
Cruise Track: Key West, FL » Key West, FL
Destinations: Cruise track subject to modifications.
When?January 4 - March 25, 2021
Jan. 4 - Feb. 16: On shore in Woods Hole
Feb. 16 - March 25: At sea
- Examine climate science, policy, literature, and leadership in their human social contexts
- Interact with researchers and writers in New England and the Gulf of Mexico
- Learn how cities, islands, and coastal regions affected by and adapting to climate change
- Acquire valuable climate leadership and communication skills through coursework, field research experiences, and digital storytelling.
Who Should Apply?
This semester at sea program is designed for non-science majors who are passionate about addressing climate change in an actionable way. It allows students with a limited background in the sciences to explore climate-related issues while gaining science literacy through engaging and accessible research at sea. Open to all majors.
- Leadership through shipboard and group project work
- Ability to effectively communicate to stakeholders, fellow researchers, and the public
- Partnership-building to develop & improve initiatives such as community resilience and outreach
Finding solutions to the problems brought about by climate change requires going beyond scientific data. We must also consider the possibilities found within social and political institutions, economic systems, cultural practices, and the creative forces of art, literature, and design. The humanities and social sciences contribute to knowledge of how our changing climate impacts human lives and societies, and they play a vital role in building strategies for global climate resilience and adaptation.
This SEA Semester includes a shore component in Woods Hole and a sailing research voyage roundtrip from Key West, FL. In Woods Hole, you'll develop your semester-long research project, review essential climate humanities literature, and design a plan for original field research. You’ll meet with experts to discuss a range of climate-related issues such as public health, coastal and urban resilience, environmental justice, clean energy, displaced communities, and national security. Dynamic interactive courses in oceanography, communication, and leadership will prepare you for the sailing phase of the program.
After six weeks in Woods Hole, you'll board the SSV Corwith Cramer in Key West for six weeks of sailing. Along the journey you will explore the effects of climate change on coastal cities and towns, estuarine areas, wetlands, nesting grounds and mangrove forests, and coral reefs. The program will trace major environmental events in the Gulf including the Deepwater Horizon spill and Hurricane Katrina, examining topics such as climate justice, energy production, coastal adaptation and restoration, and fisheries management in a changing climate. Along the way, you will get a first-hand look at a changing ocean from the deck and lab of the Cramer as you head out across coastal and open ocean environments, including Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, the first-known manta ray nursery. At sea, you’ll work with fellow students and the shipboard science team to examine the changes to our oceans brought about by shifting climatic conditions, and develop strategies for connecting scientific data to observable climate impacts on human societies. Through daily oceanographic surveys, “classroom” discussions, and navigational training while at sea, you'll gain a unique and valuable perspective of climate change that links oceanic and terrestrial systems.
The semester concludes aboard our ship at Key West with a student showcase of your original field research and digital storytelling projects.
At the beginning of every SEA Semester program, up to 25 students from various institutions across the U.S. — and often the world — come together on SEA’s residential campus in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on scenic Cape Cod, just down the road from the village of Woods Hole, a world-renowned hub of oceanographic research and discovery.
During this initial shore component, you’ll undertake coursework with SEA faculty that will prepare you personally, academically, and practically for the second part of your experience at sea. You’ll develop an original research project, explore the connections between humans and the ocean, and learn the principles necessary to crew a tall ship. You’ll also have access to some of the world’s foremost scientists and policymakers addressing the leading environmental questions of today.
Living in fully furnished private cottages on our campus, you’ll share all of the responsibilities of community living including grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. From day one, your class will begin building skills in teamwork, communication, and collaboration, all of which will prepare you for the demands of living and working together at sea. Everyone will play a role in meal planning, provisioning (each house gets a pre-paid grocery card on a weekly basis), and meal prep, which is a great opportunity to hone your organizational and budgeting skills – not to mention putting your culinary skills to the test!
Morning and afternoon classes take place a short walk away from the cottages in the main academic building, the Madden Center. This facility also hosts the library, computer lab, science lab, faculty offices, and is home to the SEA administrative offices. A midday break allows time for lunch, a pickup game of frisbee, soccer, or volleyball, or a run along the local beach. Then it’s back to the classroom. The course schedule is intensive, with academic activities scheduled from roughly 9am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. Evenings and weekends are usually free, though sometimes community activities are organized by your faculty or the Head Resident on campus.
The shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA Semester. It prepares you to be effective in your roles as researcher, crewmember, and shipmate at sea, and equips you with the tools to embark upon a successful ocean voyage.
While the shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA Semester – providing important preparation for a successful ocean voyage – not surprisingly, students look forward to the day they ship out.
As your time in Woods Hole comes to an end, you’ll feel a mix of excitement and perhaps some trepidation as well. You and your shipmates may ask, “Can we really do this?” Because of the intentional design of all SEA Semester programs, you can be confident that the answer is, “Yes!”
The sea component of SEA Semester immediately immerses you in applying practically what you have just learned in the classroom on shore. As you set sail, you take on three roles: student, crewmember, and researcher. Life at sea is full as you take ocean measurements and samples; participate in classes; stand a watch as part of an around-the-clock schedule, on deck and in lab; and assist with navigation, engineering, meal preparation, and cleaning. Depending on the voyage, you may also make port calls – an opportunity to break from the rhythm of life at sea and to visit a foreign destination, not as a tourist, but as a working sailor and researcher.
Privacy and sleep are both limited aboard ship, yet there is always time for personal reflection. Teamwork takes precedence as you assume increasing levels of responsibility for the well-being of your shipmates and the ship itself. “Ship, shipmate, self” will be your new mantra, representing a shift in priorities for all on board. A phased leadership approach over the course of your time at sea will allow you to gradually assume the majority of shipboard responsibilities under the watchful eye of the professional crew. Near the end of every program, each student will lead a complete watch cycle as part of a rewarding final capstone experience.
When you step off one of our ships, you’ll take away academic credits, self-confidence, lifelong friends, a toolbox of skills and knowledge, and a sense of direction that will serve you far beyond your voyage.
"Life at sea is concentrated: every moment holds more substance, texture, and complexity than I am ever aware of on land. Tapping in to the rhythms of a ship, you slip like a cog into a well-oiled machine: each part has purpose, and together things run smoothly. This environment is one where actions have meaning, repercussions are real, and each moment teaches the meaning and value of hard work done well. At sea I learn that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for.” SARAH WHITCHER, Clark University, Biology Major
SEA Semester: Climate & Society carries 18 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.
Survey of climate literature across humanities and social science disciplines. Explores interpretive and comparative approaches to understanding human-climate interactions in maritime contexts and identifies collaborative potential with the natural sciences. Requires interdisciplinary research, field journal writing, and team projects.
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Junior standing or consent of instructor.
Seminar focusing on communication skills development for environmental scholars. Introduces the field of environmental communication, examines environmental attitudes and behaviors, and develops a toolkit of communications strategies. Includes projects in data visualization, multi-media presentation and digital storytelling.
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor.
Be an effective leader while leveraging the individual strengths of a team. Use leadership theory and case studies to understand how decisions affect outcomes. Participate as an active member of a ship’s crew, progressively assuming full leadership roles.
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor.
Ocean ecosystem change in the anthropocene: warming, acidification, fisheries depletion, and pollution. Review principles of circulation, seawater chemistry, nutrient dynamics, and biological production to understand causes and consequences of change. Conduct field measurements for contribution to time-series datasets.
Advanced Research Topics (400-level, 4 credits)
Advanced humanities and social science seminar focusing on contemporary climate-related issues including urban/coastal resilience, poverty and justice, clean energy, human displacement, and national security. Emphasizes case study analysis and research methods. Requires field data collection, research paper and symposium presentation.
-- OR --
Directed Oceanographic Research (300-level, 4 credits)
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Three lab science courses (one at the 300-level or higher) or consent of instructor.
Design and conduct original oceanographic research. Collect data and analyze samples. Compile results in peer-reviewed manuscript format and share during oral or poster presentation session. Emphasis on development of research skills and written/oral communication abilities.
-- OR --
Directed Research Topics (300-level, 4 credits)
Seminar exploring humanities and social sciences approaches to understanding and resolving contemporary climate-related issues. Development of research and writing skills through analyses of case studies and guided seminar exercises. Requires field data collection, research paper and presentation of results.
-- OR --
Practical Oceanographic Research (200-level, 4 credits)
Introduction to oceanographic research. Design a collaborative, hypothesis-driven project following the scientific process. Collect original data. Conduct analysis and interpretation, then prepare a written report and oral presentation.
- Climate, Society and the Humanities
- Environmental Communication
- Leadership in a Dynamic Environment
- The Ocean and Global Change
- Advanced Research Topics --or--
- Directed Oceanographic Research* --or--
- Directed Research Topics --or--
- Practical Oceanographic Research*
*These syllabi are examples of the type of work done in each course but not necessarily specific to Climate & Society.
Complete an application form
Apply online. (Note: the application fee is waived for students from affiliated institutions. Contact your Admissions Counselor for the code!)
Submit two writing samples (500-750 words each)
List your full name on each. Use the red button below to upload.
- Two-part essay (500-750 words): Why have you chosen to apply to SEA Semester and what do you expect to gain from your experience? How will the SEA Semester program to which you're applying (The Global Ocean, Oceans & Climate, etc.) complement your education? Be sure to address both questions.
- Academic writing sample of your own choosing (2-4 page excerpt if longer than 4 pages). This should be a reflection of your best written work from a recent course, and on a topic applicable to your SEA Semester program of interest (science, history, environmental studies, literature, etc.). Please include your name and the context of the sample (course title and brief description of the assignment). Poetry or college entrance essays may be submitted only as a secondary sample.
Request and submit transcripts
Official college transcripts are required for all applicants. E-transcripts must be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Hard copies must remain sealed and be sent directly from your institution to:
SEA Office of AdmissionsHigh school transcripts are required for students who have not yet completed two years of college. They may be unofficial and should be uploaded using the link below.
P.O. Box 6
Woods Hole, MA 02543
Submit two (2) undergraduate academic references
The online application will provide a link to email the reference form to your professors directly. If you require a PDF version, please click here.
Both should be from undergraduate level instructors; at least one should be from an instructor (i.e. professor, academic advisor) who has taught you within the past year. We also welcome additional references (i.e. coach, academic, personal, etc.). Letters of reference will only be accepted as supplemental to the online form.
Schedule an interview with your Admissions Counselor
Interviews may be conducted over the phone or in person, depending on the Counselor’s schedule. Topics of conversation may include life at your college/university, academic and extracurricular interests, transition from high school to college, your expectations for life at SEA, and how you learned about our program. The interview is also a great opportunity for you to ask questions about SEA.
Submit the Student Participation Approval Form to the appropriate authority (study abroad office or academic advisor) on your campus
This form is accessible through our online system and ensures that you go through the appropriate channels at your school for off-campus study approval (if applicable) and credit transfer. If you're not sure who to contact on your campus, ask your SEA Admissions Counselor.
Apply for a Passport: Please note that all SEA Semester students must have a valid passport - NOT a Passport Card - before joining the program.
Apply for Financial Aid: If you plan to apply for need-based financial aid, download a financial aid application (pdf) and submit it with your application for admission.