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Villanova Student Examining Cultures, Ecological Challenges in Voyage to Remote Pacific Islands

Villanova student Ben Eliason is one of 26 undergraduates participating in the SEA Semester program.

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova University student Ben Eliason ‘18—a Comprehensive Science major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences—is one of 26 undergraduates from top U.S. colleges and universities currently in Polynesia aboard the tall ship research vessel SSV Robert C. Seamans. As part of the SEA Semester Program (Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems), Eliason is gaining firsthand knowledge about environmental challenges and cultural practices in some of the world’s most remote island communities.

SEA Semester encourages students to engage in conversations about how human societies will operate in the future, given limited resources, growing populations, exponential increases in waste generation, and climatic disruption. Now in its sixth year, the program was developed by Sea Education Association (SEA) faculty in collaboration with academic partners in Tahiti.

After a highly selective application process, the class arrived in August for four weeks of preparatory coursework on shore at SEA Semester’s campus in the oceanographic research community of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The students then flew to Pago Pago, American Samoa to board the SSV Robert C. Seamans, SEA’s state-of-the-art 134-foot brigantine, which will serve as their home, classroom, and laboratory for the next seven weeks as they voyage to New Zealand.

The students will sail to several Pacific island countries, including Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji, for a comparative perspective. Along the way, they will confront challenging questions of colonial conflict, cultural identity, and environmental justice, while examining relationships between political structures, culture, and the natural environment. They will also explore issues of sustainability with local officials and visit historical, cultural, and agricultural sites. Using state-of-the-art shipboard lab and research facilities, they will investigate the complex factors that threaten fragile island ecosystems and the surrounding marine environment.

The program will conclude in early November in Auckland, New Zealand, where the students will compile their research and present their findings. To follow the ship’s journey, click here.

About Sea Education Association/SEA Semester®

Sea Education Association (SEA) is an internationally recognized leader in undergraduate ocean education. For 45 years and with more than one million nautical miles sailed, SEA has educated students about the world’s oceans through its Boston University accredited study abroad program, SEA Semester. SEA/SEA Semester is based on Cape Cod in the oceanographic research community of Woods Hole, Massachusetts and has two research vessels: the SSV Corwith Cramer, operating in the Atlantic Ocean, and the SSV Robert C. Seamans, operating in the Pacific. In 2016, SEA was honored with the National Science Board’s Public Service Award for its role in promoting the public understanding of science and engineering.

About Villanova University:

Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six collegesthe College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit