Cut the Cameras: It’s Almost Over?!

As an avid vlogger (although I have been slacking with the updates since my computer broke) I have the amazing ability to have a time capsule of the past. As the semester is starting to wrap up, I am getting very nostalgic about this experience looking at the pictures and videos I recorded! It is truly wild that we only have 2 more weeks until the semester is over.

Recently we have been very busy here at the field site. I am currently writing this as I take a break from studying for my last of 3 finals, and moving forward we will be extensively working on the capstone! It hasn’t really hit me that classes are over and that we are almost done with our capstone. 

A lot of the past blog posts have already talked about the amazing parts of the field site: the people, the classes, having an engaging internship, and more. For this post I am going to talk about the things that brought me happiness that were unexpected!

Seeing a shipwreck:

One of my peers, Heidi, is an avid morning person. One day she asked if I wanted to watch the sunrise and also see a shipwreck, and I enthusiastically agreed! We saw a shipwreck, and I was amazed at the whole aesthetic! I find shipwrecks to be really fascinating, as each boat has a story.

Picture of the Shipwreck. Also was a beautiful Sunrise!

Getting a bike and bike rides:
Photographic rendering of Betty, my beloved bike.

One of the things that has brought me the most joy from this field site has been my bike! Betty, the name of my bike, has been a part of many memories and is the way I get around since I do not have a car. I have enjoyed riding on the bike path, biking a few times to the Coastal Studies Institute for class (which I do not recommend in the summer months because you get really sweaty), and just taking in the landscape on wheels. Manteo is pretty flat, which is convenient since Betty only has one gear. Whenever I get overwhelmed, I love to listen to music and bike. You definitely feel like the main character in a coming of age movie!

Gaining more experience in the lab:


A selfie of me in the lab. The lighting in this space hits different!

I have always been intimidated by labs and doing any sort of lab work. When I heard we had to do lab work for our capstone and classes, I was very nervous and dreaded it. However, I am pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I got with lab work! Measurements derived from lab work reveal a lot of interesting patterns, and using the fancy equipment was a great experience. I honestly started to really enjoy being in the lab!


When I learned there was a skydiving company in Manteo, I knew that I had to skydive before I left the Outer Banks. Thankfully, I was able to skydive in October! It was an incredible experience that brought me so much happiness. The worst part is the anticipation on the plane going up, but the freedom and awe during the actual skydiving part was unmatched. The video I got from my experience is also hilarious, and is a memory I will always fondly look back on.

At Skydive OBX with my sister!

These are just a few of the many unexpected things from this Field Site that have sparked joy. I am really sad I am leaving soon, but grateful for all the memories that have come from this experience!

-Janis Arrojado (class of 2022)


From Distress to De-stress: My Newfound Hobby

My legs bounce incessantly as I grip the paddle so tight my knuckles turn stark white. My throat is dry and my heart is racing. “Why am I doing this?” is an incessant thought as I attempt to move my arms. Each wave that approaches and every slight yaw of the kayak fills me with dread and inaction. It occurs to me how embarrassing this is, but I can’t seem to move the paddle. Bri gently reminds me that I need to help her paddle because while she is skilled, kayaking for two is difficult, and we are heading for land far too rapidly.

Weather station located on the Croatan Sound, North Carolina. August 2020.

It’s too late. The waves force us into the grass at the edge of the Sound. Bri gets out to push us back into the water and suddenly disappears with a splash up to her waist. The struggle culminates in Professor Andy Keeler paddling over to us on his paddleboard, jumping into the water, and pulling our kayak free. Thankfully, the waves are too strong to warrant going any further and we return to the dock.

As that story implies, I don’t know how to swim; water is my kryptonite. Yet, I am studying in the Outer Banks, a place surrounded by water. The water terrifies me, but it also draws me. And, what better way to tackle my fears than by immersing myself in a semester designed to conquer them? After the catastrophe of causing Bri and myself to become landbound for several minutes, I promised to never kayak doubles again. If I capsized or got into a tricky situation, I could get myself out.

OBXFS students kayaking on the Alligator River, North Carolina. October 2020.

The next time we kayaked, it was once again in the Sound, my fickle friend. The day was much calmer and the water only slightly undulated, perfect for the water tour our professors had planned. I set out on my own kayak and paddled with vehemence, determined to keep up with everyone in spite of my fears. The entire time, I kept pace with the group, arms stinging with pain, but I did not fall behind, capsize, or hit land. I sat in my kayak riveted by Andy’s stories of each location. A buoy marks the spot where Andy Griffith had a rowdy night and I made sure to remember the story for my parents. As I sat in my kayak, bobbing in the water, the stories distracted me from my fears.

By the time we returned to the dock, my arms were slacking from the tension that had glued them to the paddle. The pain was worth it though. I faced my fear and kayaked the Sound on my own. Yes, I had all of the professors and my classmates nearby if I needed help, but I did it myself. A not so simple feat for someone scared of the water.

Kayaking on the Alligator River, North Carolina. October 2020.

October 2, 2020: I wake up early and drive to Buffalo City. We are kayaking Alligator River. I am less nervous today and excited to get on the water. The sunlight filtering through the trees casts a shimmer over the river and fills me with a sense of calm. When I arrive, the guide says that there will have to be two doubles. Despite my fear of potentially causing one of my classmates to capsize, I kayak with Heidi. We crush it. Instead of focusing on all of the things that can go wrong, I focus on the abundance of nature and plants we have learned about in ecology. I spy Spanish moss and trees with knob roots. When we’re in the wide expanse of the river, I focus on improving my kayaking skills and eventually learn how to paddle to a stop and backward. This tour blew me away. The history of Buffalo City is fascinating– I won’t spoil it for anyone thinking about studying at the Outer Banks Field Site (OBXFS)– and the location is gorgeous.

OBXFS is truly a perfect place to grow, not only in terms of gaining field experience and figuring out what you want to do or not do in life but also in pushing yourself to conquer your fears. This semester, I have focused on expanding my comfort zone. I hope that any student reading this post and considering studying at OBXFS takes advantage of this opportunity and applies. There is a whole semester of growth and adventure waiting for you.

– Meagan Gates, UNC-Chapel Hill, Class of 2022

OBXFS Interning at the Dare County Justice Center

My name is Caroline Pharr, I am a Senior at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Public Policy. During the Fall 2020 Outer Banks Field Site I had the opportunity to work at the Dare County Justice Center, in the Assistant District Attorney’s Office in Manteo, North Carolina. My internship mentor for this semester is Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Karpowicz Bland. Assistant District Attorney Bland is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and UNC law school, and is a long term Outer Banks resident.

Caroline Pharr on the right and Assistant District Attorney Bland on the left

One of the highlights of my internship has been the opportunity to observe court. At the Dare Center I have had the opportunity to observe and assist in Superior Court.  It has been my goal to pursue a career in environmental justice, either in policy or law. Working with my internship mentor over the fall semester has shown me what a career in environmental law might look like.

In addition to working in Dare County, I had the opportunity to travel to Currituck County to observe District Court. I was able to see the difference in the Dare County and Currituck County court proceedings. On this trip to the Currituck County Justice Center, I was able to see a community with different social economic groups then that of Dare County, and how those differences affected the dynamics in court. One specific contrast was the civil violations between farmers and land owner rights.

Currituck County Justice Center

What I have learned during my internship is that North Carolina District Courts can be divided into four categories; civil, criminal, juvenile, and the magistrate. District Court civil cases involve hearings for divorces, custody over children, child support, and cases involving less than $10,000. It also deals with minor criminal cases involving misdemeanors and infractions. Whereas in contrast to District Court, proceedings in Superior Court involve all felony criminal cases and civil cases involving more than $10,000. In addition, appeals made for misdemeanor and infraction cases from District Court are also tried in Superior Court.

Another experience that has been a highlight is getting to meet the Candidate for Chief Justice of North Carolina Paul Newby.

Justice Paul Newby

This being an election year, the Dare County Justice Center was a stop for Justice Newby to meet and speak with the Dare County voters, and he toured the court house and met with those of us working at the Justice Center. I had the chance to speak with him about the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as how college students are adjusting to online university in the wake of COVID-19.

As someone who will be going to law school after graduation, it was very exciting to meet one of the few people whose interpretations of the law will affect the lives of the people who reside in North Carolina.


~ Caroline Pharr (Class of 2021)


Turning Tides: Powering Communities with Water

The waves swiftly and powerfully approach, but I refuse to back down from my task. I will slow them. My arms raise, hands outstretched, palms facing the barreling waves. “Slow, slow, slow,” is the mantra repeating endlessly in my head as I urge the waves to bend to my will. For a second, I doubt my powers, but then, the waves spill forth in a spray of seafoam and coat my feet in a layer of sand. As the water recedes back to its home, I stare at my feet in awe of my power and upright position.

The moment of quiet triumph is succeeded by inevitable failure as the tide pushes in and my powers fail me. In spite of my powers, the waves refuse to slow and charge at me with full force, knocking me to the sand and filling my eyes and nose with saltwater. I emerge from the waves, spluttering in frustration, and trudge back towards my mom, soaking wet and stiff from the sand.

Ever since I was a kid, I have been captivated by the water and the power in its waves. However, my fascination has shifted from controlling the power held in the motion of water to harnessing that power. As a result, when I heard about the Outer Banks Field Site and the internship opportunities included in the curriculum, I leaped at the chance to apply.

During the summer, I had a Zoom call with Corey Adams, the internship coordinator at the Outer Banks Field Site. This call consisted of me expressing interest in renewable energy, public policy, and bridging the gap between the public, policymakers, and renewable energy companies. A broad range of interests, but he immediately mentioned the North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program (NCROEP), located at the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI). After this call, I was assigned an internship with George Bonner, Director of NCROEP.

Marine hydrokinetic energy technologies (MHKs) have a plethora of applications in NC including electrifying ferries, desalination operations, aquaculture production, and powering microgrids. These technologies provide a means of addressing the NC Clean Energy Plan and contributing to more resilient coastal communities, especially those on the Outer Banks. This semester, I am interning with NCROEP and compiling a report entitled, Powering NC’s Blue Economy, to indicate viable markets for expanding the use of MHKs in NC. Additionally, this report will address how to engage stakeholders in discussions about implementing MHKs along the coast.

Mr. Bonner has been an invaluable resource in expanding my knowledge of MHKs and my future opportunities in the field of renewable energy. During our first Zoom calls in August, we compiled a work plan that prioritized Powering NC’s Blue Economy, a means of incorporating all of the interests I had expressed in the initial call with Corey Adams. Since then, we have had weekly meetings that are the highlight of my internship. Every call includes new information and resources to help improve my report, an opportunity to see what Mr. Bonner has been working on and provide my own insight, and information about summer internships. The skills and knowledge that I have gained from Mr. Bonner make me more confident about my career path.

My average work day at the Coastal Studies Institute, North Carolina. November 2020.

From writing my report, I am most excited about the potential for electrifying ferries. The NC Ferry Division is facing problems from fewer passengers and therefore, less revenue. Additionally, the transportation sector in NC contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, reducing reliance on diesel fuel for ferry operations would reduce costs associated with fuel and contribute to overall greenhouse gas emission reduction goals in the NC Clean Energy Plan. Washington is already developing electric ferries which enables NC to learn and benefit from using Washington’s progress as a foundation. While there are barriers to electrifying ferries, the potential is immense and would benefit coastal communities, especially those that are reliant on ferries for supplies and evacuation in the case of emergencies. Hopefully, my report can illuminate the potential for electric ferries in NC.

The report culminates in a review of stakeholder engagement strategies and means of addressing stakeholder concerns. This portion of the report is of particular interest to me because throughout my time at the Outer Banks Field Site, I have learned about stakeholder engagement in Professor Linda D’Anna’s class. Stakeholders are essential to consider when examining the potential for MHKs because, without stakeholder inclusion and compromise, projects can be derailed. Additionally, it is important to consider the coastal communities that are reliant on the water and resources affected by MHKs. By including coastal communities, local government, fishers and fisheries associations, and other stakeholders in the discussion, a project gains credibility and support.

This has been a wonderful opportunity to learn more about renewable energy and my home state. I am proud of the strides that are being made toward a cleaner future in NC and hope that my report can help NCROEP further their goals for MHK development and operation.

– Meagan Gates, UNC-Chapel Hill, Class of 2022

An OBXFS Internship: A Love for Writing and Science

I had just arrived in Manteo, with my family, one day before I was to move into the guest house with the other students. I went onto the balcony of the hotel to take a call, as my younger brother complained about the quality of the Wi-Fi in our room. He, of course, did not see a need to stop while I answered the phone. 

Cory was calling to talk to me about my internship placement, he told me I would be working with Parker Kellam and John McCord in CSI’s Public Outreach and Education Department. He explained that I would be writing content for the CSI website about current research while also providing insight into the field site. I remember telling him that the placement sounded perfect and that I was excited to start. My mom, who is always more excited than me about everything, was eagerly waiting to hear what I was going to be doing. I believe my exact words to her were, “science writing.” Of course I went on to give her more detail and basically repeat what Cory had told me, but I realized I still had no idea what I was about to embark on.  

Nonetheless, I was excited that I would be writing. I have always loved to write, in fact for a very short time in middle school I had convinced myself I was going to make a living writing fictional novels. I’ll admit, I still daydream about locking myself in a cabin somewhere in the woods to create the next best-selling fiction series, but my passion for the environment always wins out. Which is why the prospect of combining my love for writing and science into one thing brought a smile to my face even before I really knew what was going on. 

Lauren and Heidi Working
Heidi and I coordinated on many projects over the semester. Having her around added to the quality of every article I wrote.

During our first two weeks at the field site Lindsay managed to set up work spaces at CSI, for those who wanted them. I can’t remember if it was by chance, or on purpose, but I ended up being assigned to the same room as the Outreach and Education Department’s other intern, Heidi. On our first day, as Parker and John explained their expectations and suggested projects for us to begin, I had no idea how much Heidi and I would end up working together. 

The first piece I produced for CSI’s website was an article about the first two weeks at the field site. I really enjoyed working on it, as it gave me the chance to get to know my peers. While working on this story I learned more about Meagan, another student that worked in the same room as Heidi and I. She too would become a centerpiece of the memories I created while working at this internship.

Lauren Colonair at Internship
I spent a lot of time at CSI, in my workspace, writing stories for the website.

Still, I was ready to write about research at CSI. John suggested I talk to three different researchers, including Dr. Kimberly Rogers. As I worked on the article about Dr. Roger’s research on sediment and resilience in Bangladesh, I found my love for science deepening and discovered a new hunger to learn about new fields of science I hadn’t previously contemplated. This hunger intensified as I moved onto my second piece, which focused on research being performed by Dr. Jim Morley on oyster leases. 

This second project is when Heidi and I really got to know each other. John and Dr. Morley’s PhD. student, Andrew McMains, were kind enough to set up a day for me and Heidi to join Andrew as he carried out field work for the research. This, however, required us to drive three hours to Morehead City, spend the day on a boat, and drive three hours back to Manteo. It was the absolute best day of the entire internship.

Field work with Andrew
Andrew showed us how to tag fish with acoustic trackers during our time in the field.

I am not saying Heidi, Meagan, and I did not enjoy our internship days at CSI, but this day was special. Heidi and I woke up very early, at least in my mind. I had learned Heidi wakes up before the sun on a regular basis, and she was more than happy to be starting our drive to meet Andrew. We talked for the entire three hours there and almost the entire three hours back. The work we did with Andrew not only gave me interesting content to write about, but it also revealed that I do really enjoy field work of all types. Something I wouldn’t have known if I wasn’t afforded the experience. 

In short, once the day was over I found myself with new knowledge to carry with me into my future academic and career oriented endeavors, but more importantly I gained a friend I intend to keep around. 

Still shot from Student Interview
One of our fellow students, Todd Davis, was kind enough to allow us to interview him for our YouTube videos.

I continued to write articles about the field site and assist Parker with social media content for CSI. I am in the process of finishing up my last research article, and to be completely honest, I wish it wasn’t so close to being over. Luckily, Heidi and I decided to work together to create two YouTube Videos for CSI’s page. We still have a lot to do, so I don’t have to think about the end just yet. 

The internship was, overall, an integral part of my experience at the field site. It allowed me to do something I love while learning about my field of study, broader scientific topics, and what I want in the future. Through the guidance of Parker and John I feel I have become a better writer and have learned how to present information to the public in a more streamlined manner. I was even lucky enough to work with people I really enjoyed and gain life long friends through the experience. I’m proud of what I have accomplished, but I will miss working at CSI with John, Parker, Heidi, and Meagan.

Lauren Colonair, Class of 2021 

OBX: Through the Lens

I got an opportunity to do something I love this semester. Observing, learning, creating, travelling (as much as COVID restrictions allow anyways). I met new people, listened to their stories, and discovered so much more of the Outer Banks than I would have on my own. Why did I have access to these experiences? Well, I photographed them, as a photojournalism intern with the Coastal Studies Institute’s (CSI’s) outreach department. I worked with John McCord, the outreach director, and tag-teamed a lot of my projects with another intern, Lauren Colonair. She wrote stories, I took photos for them. Lauren and I got to go on road trips, talk to researchers at CSI, and have access to an incredible amount of camera and recording equipment. Our two final projects, videos on the 2020 Outer Banks Field Site (OBXFS) and the capstone research project, are available on the CSI YouTube channel.

I also worked on projects individually. The Coastal Landscape Initiative (CLI) is a program that promotes use of native plants in landscaping on the Outer Banks. Native plants are more environmentally friendly as they are already adapted to the environment and require less pesticides and care. CSI has beautifully landscaped gardens filled with native plants. 

Many days, I would go around sunrise to photograph the flowers, insects, and plants. I enjoyed working on this project because I love spending time outside and observing nature. I can now identify a lot of the plants I see around campus and the Outer Banks. Here are a few photos I made:









My favorite part of my internship were the two personal photo projects I completed on wildlife and water. I got to work on these on my own time; they forced me to leave my room and explore the Outer Banks and stretch my creativity. I would work on these projects whenever I needed a break from class or capstone work. Usually around sunrise or sunset I would go find a new place to check out, and spend some time observing and practicing my patience before taking photos. I spent a lot of time trying to represent my subjects in unique ways. 

Bioluminescence at Coquina Beach

My internship was a great experience. It helped improve my photography and videography skills and taught me more about what I want for my future. The semester is coming to a close, but everything I learned from my internship and classes will follow me. I’m grateful for this opportunity and that I got to do something I love. Sending a huge thank you to everyone at CSI who helped make the 2020 OBX Field Site a great experience.

                                                                                                      – Heidi Hannoush, Class of 2023

OBXFS and Coastal Planning: Interning with the Town of Nags Head

My coursework through the OBXFS has been greatly supplemented through my internship placement with the Principal Planner in the Town of Nags Head. Holly White, long time Nags Head resident and Principal Planner for the municipality, has so graciously been exposing me to the inner workings of the town and providing learning experiences on how local government works. Acting as somewhat of an all-purpose helper, I’ve helped Holly with town preparations for CRS inspections as well as furthered my own environmental education messaging projects. My projects have surrounded effective messaging on environmental issues and information via social media. I have been creating Instagram posts, Facebook write-ups, tweets and a social media posting plan for future interns.

When corresponding with Corey about internship placement preferences, I told him that the most useful experience for me personally, would give me more context for understanding what career paths will make me feel the most fulfilled. After exploring the list together and reading internship blog posts from previous years, I came to believe that interning with a municipality would be a perfect fit for completing that goal. From my first call connecting with Holly, I knew that COVID-19 circumstances wouldn’t hinder our ability to work together. Interested in both my academic and emotional transition to the Outer Banks, Holly always took time to understand my perspectives and make our work together as impactful, relevant and engaging as possible. Coming into my internship, it was already predetermined that my work would be environmentally focused; the format of my work however, was something Holly and I developed together. After discussing a need for more outreach, specifically in the realm of social media, Holly and I decided that I would explore the Town’s social media presence and find ways to increase its effectiveness. The social media campaigns we’ve developed have been for both short-term and long-term use. Spot-light, information-dense campaigns would run for roughly three weeks, with weekly or biweekly posts. On the other hand, long-term campaigns – sparser and more simplistic in information – would run for six months or longer.

My experience with the Town of Nags Head was enhanced by Holly’s willingness to introduce me to her coworkers and connect me better with the rest of the department and town staff. From arranging calls with herself, Kate Jones, (engineering technician and the Town’s point-person on stormwater management) and Kylie Shephard , (another environmental planner in the Planning Department) to better inform me on the Town’s management strategies, to letting me sit in on staff meetings and see how decisions get made, Holly made sure that my internship taught me more than just what we discussed as experience deliverables.

Here is the title slide of a “Word of the Week” post, meant to draw in the audience with its simplicity

My favorite campaign we developed is a long-term campaign titled “Word of the Week” which aims to simplify scientific terms related to septic system health, climate change and other environmental concerns of the town. “Word of the Week” tries to ‘make science simple’ so that residents are better able to understand and contextualize Town recommendations and plans, hopefully empowering them to become more involved in communal problem-solving. “Word of the Week” is a campaign that could continue into the foreseeable future. There will always be work to be done closing the knowledge gaps that exist between researchers and residents.

Here are two of the informational slides. I believed that this campaign would be the most effective if there was as little jargon as possible.
Fun Fact: Holly is actually the one who suggested the utilization of memes (which as a young adult I was extremely fond of), stating that the residents were extremely receptive to ‘Dad Jokes’

All in all, my internship experience has provided me with useful real-world experience and connections to the Outer Banks that I will take beyond my time at the fieldsite. Thank you to the OBXFS professors and coordinators for arranging this experience and thank you to Holly White for your time and patience. I may not want to work in local government but I have definitely gained a greater appreciation of the inner workings of government and the nuances of public service. Go out and vote; remain civically engaged and make the work of your public officials more efficient and effective. Governance has always been a communal endeavor and needs to remain so! Apathy will be the death of our democracy.

Getting Ready for the Home Stretch

This week did not start or end like it usually does. We had to plan and adapt for collecting more data for our research project. Initially, we only had one day to collect and analyze water quality data from the Nags Head wells. Since we already had two days of data collection about a month ago before and after a rain event, we wanted to keep the trend going.

Lauren’s leadership skills shined as she helped organize the extra day of sampling over the weekend before Monday. Many of the students were also willing to adapt by sacrificing a day usually reserved for internships to collect the water quality data right after a rain event. It took a lot of organizing and teamwork, but this field site group excels at selflessness and working extra hard for the betterment of the group.

Tuesday went normally as we met in our outdoor classroom for recitation for Andy’s and Linda’s class. We had a fun activity in Linda’s class where the class split into groups and controlled our own fishing fleet to help us understand fisheries management. However, it was every group for themselves and the fishery market collapsed from us buying too many boats and overfishing. Whoops! I think the class as a whole took away from the activity that is very important to have restrictions and regulations for commercial fishing to help sustain business as well as the ecosystem.

On Wednesday, we took samples and analyzed the water quality again for our second round of dry measurements. I enjoyed being able to sample rather than analyze in the lab again. I think it helps to take part in every aspect of the capstone to make it easier to understand and write our final report.

The script was completely changed for Thursday. Instead of meeting for our research project, Lindsay decided it was a great day to finally take our boat trip! We have been trying to do this ecology lab since the beginning of the semester, but the weather has never been on our side. So instead of our regularly scheduled programming, we got to take a boat ride on a beautiful day and measure water qualities at different depths. We explored three different locations around Roanoke island and took measurements at equal-interval depths to compare the locations with indicators such as temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen.

Lindsay and Corey made the day even better with their knowledge of the sound and harbor in Wanchese. They were able to answer every question about any boat on the dime and how they use the resources in the sound differently. I also learned of a wholesale fish market called O’neal’s in Wanchese, which I will be checking out in the very near future!


Our instructors were gracious in giving us Friday off for a mental health day. I think it came at a perfect time because our final exams, internships, and final project are all coming to an end soon. An extra day to recuperate was perfect for us to get ready for a busy end-of-semester schedule.

This week goes to show that the field site is able to adapt just like the island itself to stressors whether it be physically or mentally.

The students I have had the pleasure of meeting here have made the semester so much more enjoyable. Even with social distancing, we are still able to hang out and have a good time at the house. I thought it would be hard to relate to the other students because I am the only male, but I have not felt excluded in the slightest. I honestly never thought my final semester in college would be spent in the outer banks, but I can’t see how it could be even remotely better stuck inside with online class everyday.

Also, the instructors here are unlike any I have ever met. They actually let the students have a say in the day-to-day schedule. They could have easily told us that we could not do an extra sampling day this past week, but rather they really listen and respond to our considerations. Even with the pandemic still affecting all of us in some way, the instructors here have been so enthusiastic and help us in every step of the way towards our final project.


~ Todd Davis (Class of 2020)

Making the Best of It

This week, Lindsay made a comment that filled me with more emotions than any one phrase has in quite some time; “We are more than halfway through the semester.” I sat there, at the metal picnic table I’ve sat at all semester, and stared at her. Thankfully, my mask hid my astonished expression. 

The first rush of emotion was fear. There were many terrifying thoughts swirling through my mind. How were we, a group of ten students, going to finish collecting all our data for our capstone, analyze it, write a whole report on it, and finish our classes in less than two months. At that moment, it seemed close to impossible. 

Following the fear was sadness. I scanned the outdoor space we call our classroom, taking in all the faces around me, faces that, despite our masks, have become familiar. Each of the nine other people I have shared this experience with has made their own unique mark on my life. We will be leaving to walk down our own individual paths, yet again, in such a short amount of time. Although I know we all have exciting and bright futures waiting for us, as I heard Lindsay’s words, I realized I was not ready to let go of the present experience.

One of the best parts of living here is the countless opportunities to walk along the beach.

The last emotion I felt was a huge rush of excitement. The thought of all the crazy and cool stuff we will have the opportunity to do in the next few weeks brought a smile to my face. I feel as if there is an astronomical chance we will not find any significant scientific conclusions through the work we have done, but we get to try. That in itself is enough for me, we get to finally start putting together something to show everyone how hard we have worked this semester. And we have worked hard, every single one of the people here has put in extra time and effort they didn’t necessarily need to at some point or another.

All of this brought me to one singular goal for the remainder of my time here. Since August, I have had awesome experiences and have gotten a lot out of being here. However, for these last two months I want to make a conscious effort to make the best of my time here. The days following Lindsay’s terrifying, but true, statement brought many opportunities to do just that. 

Heidi and I spent a day near Cedar Island, as part of our internships, assisting a PhD. student with some field work.

This past Wednesday was an internship day. I have been interning with the Public Engagement and Outreach Department at CSI as a science journalism intern, all semester. I’ve enjoyed my time in this role immensely, however I was exhausted when I woke up and not exactly excited to go into work. (This is a dangerous thing to say because my mentor may very well read this) However, as I begrudgingly climbed into my car to make the eight minute trek from the guest house to CSI, I remembered what internship days met; I was spending the day with Heidi and Meagan.

We are all efficient and focused workers, but we find time to have fun too. My favorite conversations have been over our lunch as we discuss the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life, conspiracy theories, comical YouTube videos, and so much more. I walked into CSI that day knowing I would have more of those conversations and I was going to create even more great memories connected to CSI and OBXFS. 

On Thursday, I was still very tired. (I am not exactly sure why I had absolutely no energy this week, but it is a common theme that has thankfully come to an end this weekend.) Class started that day at 9:30 AM. I woke up at 9:25 AM to Bri, whom I drive to CSI everyday, pounding on my door yelling for me to wake up. In quite the panic I got ready in seven minutes and drove us to class as fast as I safely could. 

During that drive, I have never been happier that Bri is the chaotic sweetheart that she is. All the way to class she bombarded me with jokes about our current situation. During class, I took in the beautiful sound side views that have been the backdrop of our academic work. I let myself reflect on how lucky our little group is to be here at this exact moment. We, unlike many people in school right now, get to study in person, interact with our classmates and professors, and do real work. No number of days that start off rocky could ever overshadow the gift we have been given by getting to be here. 

Collecting water samples, for our capstone, in the rain is actually kind of fun.

On the way home I found myself feeling even luckier to have the people I have to share this time with. There are people who may have reacted with anger towards my inability to be on time that morning. Bri found a way to make the best of the situation. She filled the morning with humor and was entirely relaxed the whole time. Like every other student here, she was selfless and I was reminded that I wouldn’t want to be here with any other group of people. 

Friday brought with it another field trip day filled with excitement and interesting lessons about the Outer Banks. We learned about the economic and community shaping dynamics of bridges and other infrastructure, the ecology of the northern side of the Outer Banks, and how coastal management decisions affect the future. We stopped at the Hatteras Lighthouse and discussed the decision to move it, along with the implications of that undertaking. At the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station we learned about the history of the area and how it has informed the current lifestyles now present.

This field trip gave me the opportunity to observe on how important our instructors are to the experience of this place. Lindsay, Linda, and Andy have demonstrated a desire for every student to learn and enjoy the semester that is more obvious than any other professor I have interacted with in the past. During lunch on Friday, Andy sat with Natalie, Heidi, and I and talked about our lives, experiences at UNC, and peppered in academic and life advice wherever he could. It was clear through the entire conversation that he really cared. I noticed, throughout the day, that Lindsay was always ready with water, snacks, and general questions aimed at making sure everyone was ready to move forward and having a good time. I’m sure part of this is her mothering instincts, but I know we all feel cared for and comfortable when she is around. Linda spent the day providing humor at just the right times, she always ensures the group’s spirits remain high. 

Andy gave a short talk about the economic impacts of infrastructure, like bridges, in front of the Herbert C. Bonner bridge. This bridge sits over Oregon Inlet and is the only way to get into Hatteras by car.

I spent the weekend working on assignments and tasks for the upcoming week all while finding time to enjoy the people around me. I found myself on a six hour Netflix binge with Todd and Janis on Saturday night. We shared countless jokes, great conversations, and created new memories that will definitely remain some of my favorites when I look back on this time.

Our tour guide at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station told us many amazing stories about the beginnings of life-saving on the Outer Banks.

In short, all of us who have experienced OBXFS this semester could not be more fortunate to be here. We don’t have much time left, but we have so many more opportunities to make the best of this place. We all have each other’s backs, maybe more than any other field site in the past due to the circumstances we find ourselves currently in. Everyone works hard, and even though we have a lot more to accomplish, I know we can do it and do it well.   

I was not sure where I wanted to take this post when I sat down to write it, but now that I’ve reached the end, I’ve realized I simply wanted to convey that OBXFS is a great place to be. This past week has allowed me to come to that realization more conclusively. I wanted to give a glimpse into life here to encourage anyone who may find themselves on this page and consider coming to this program to do so. My semester here happened to fall during a pandemic and as a result it would be a lie to say we got the full experience of this place, still, I have never found myself in an academic or social environment quite like this one. 

In conclusion, thank you to my amazing classmates who have now become my amazing friends, and thank you to our incredible instructors for not only teaching us new things and caring about us as they do, but for dealing with our antics in general. I can’t wait to finish this experience with all of you.  

While we have kayaked in many places now, the Buffalo City paddle in Alligator River was one of the most unique areas.

Justice on the Outer Banks

My name is Caroline Pharr, I am a Senior at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Public Policy. During my Fall 2020 semester, I am studying at the OBX Field Site, at the Coastal Studies Institute in Skyco, North Carolina. Part of my study program is an internship that began on August 24th. 

Outside of the Dare County Justice Center

I am interning at the Dare County Justice Center, in the Assistant District Attorney’s Office in Manteo, North Carolina. My internship mentor is Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Karpowicz Bland, a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and UNC law school.

During my time interning with Assistant District Attorney Bland I have been able to  experience working in criminal justice while getting an insight for the demands of the position.  Assistant District Attorney Bland is dedicated to her role as a prosecutor and to serving in the Dare County Court system. While working and learning from the office, I have a greater understanding of how criminal justice law is practiced, and a profound appreciation for the work that the people in this office perform everyday for the Dare County community. 

Caroline Pharr leaving to go to her internship 

This Fall Semester has been like no other, being that we are taking classes and working on internships during a global pandemic. At the Dare County Justice Center, court is in session and social distancing measures are in place. When I go to my internship, I walk through the front doors with my mask on, and before I can walk through the metal detector, I have to stop and get my temperature checked. These safety measures are to help protect the public from the spread of COVID-19 .

Officer Jack Palmer in the lobby of the Dare County Justice CenterOfficer Jack Palmer in the lobby of the Dare County Justice Center

Additional safety measures include reduced seating in the courtroom, mandatory masks while inside the courtroom, and the District Attorney Office is closed to the public.  

While working in the District Attorney Office everyday is different, in the morning I could be analyzing a new case file, then that afternoon I would be doing research on legal statutes and precedents.  Many of the cases that I have been working on are related to drug crimes. While at my internship, I have been learning about the  issues that are problematic in the Dare County community. Drug related crimes are some of the most prevalent issues on the docket at the Justice Center.  These are issues that are not just happening in Dare County, but State and Nation wide as well. 

As part of my internship, my mentor assigned me as a research project on a new North Carolina law called HB 474/SB 375 Death by Distribution. This new law has been in effect as of December 2019, which would make it a felony to sell certain controlled substances to someone who dies by ingesting them. My task for this research project is to write a report about how this law is being used in North Carolina, what qualifies a person to be tried by the new law, and how it will affect the Dare County community. 

Dare County is my home. Having the opportunity to be able to work at the Assistant District Attorney’s Office with my mentor has not just helped me understand how I want to work in law, but has also shown me about the issues that are hurting my community that I had not understood the full extent of before.  

In environmental studies, we study the relationship between people and the planet, how the needs of people need to be met and balanced with the resources of our planet. We study how good public policy that protects the health and safety of people is also good for the environment. 

“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man.”

                                                                                                                                  —Stewart Udall

Protection of our beaches and waters are an integral part to a healthy community, as is protecting the health of the community is an integral part of protecting our coastal ecosystems.  As someone who is passionate about the environment and protecting it, having the experience working in legal and policy enforcement at the Justice Center has given me an insight that I would not have been able to experience if not for this program. Environment health and public health are not separate.  They can only be as strong as their weakest link.  

~ Caroline Pharr (Class of 2021)