SAMS news room

American students make welcome return to SAMS

The Coastal Carolina University students with group leader Prof Louis Keiner during their visit to SAMS
The Coastal Carolina University students with group leader Prof Louis Keiner during their visit to SAMS

Three years after their last ‘annual’ exchange visit to Oban, the students of Coastal Carolina University (CCU) made a welcome return to the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) this spring.

SAMS, a partner of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), and CCU officially established an exchange programme in 2019, following visits by the South Carolina students in 2017 and 2018.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the exchange in 2020 and 2021. Group leader and Professor of Physics and Physical Oceanography at CCU Louis Keiner said this year’s exchange cohort of 12 students was excited to once again have the opportunity to travel. Indeed, two of the students were due to travel to Oban as part of the 2020 cohort.

Prof Keiner, whose wife, Lesley Etherson, is originally from Oban, said: “CCU has a tradition of studying abroad but the pandemic prevented us from running such programmes, so our current students are not used to having these opportunities.

“I feel that studying abroad is extremely important for making connections, culturally and professionally, and to see other types of work being done in different settings. Although Scotland and the U.S. are both ‘western’ nations, there is enough of a cultural difference that the students learn a lot. On the science side, the trip to Scotland gives the students a chance to experience oceanography in a completely different setting.  

“I always like to think of this trip as two-thirds science and one-third cultural education.”

The CCU students spend three weeks on a fieldwork course at SAMS during the month of May and learn a range of new skills, including lab work and how to collect samples at sea.

SAMS hopes to be able to send students to CCU next spring as the exchange programme is re-established post-pandemic.

Prof John Howe, BSc Marine Science programme leader at SAMS, said: “Everyone looks forward to the visit of CCU, as the students bring an incredible energy and enthusiasm for their science. Coming from a part of the world that is relatively flat and full of wetlands, the fjord-like geography of the west coast of Scotland gives them a completely different perspective on how the marine environment works.

“It was therefore a big loss to both institutes when the pandemic forced us to cancel the trips in 2020 and 2021. We hope that by restarting the programme this year, we have ensured the academic links between SAMS and CCU can continue for many years to come.”

As part of the Oban trip, Prof Keiner is introducing the students to Scottish history, using many of the local landmarks as a reference. During the years he was unable to bring students to Scotland, Prof Keiner studied the history of the Highlands and Islands through an online Masters programme run by UHI’s Centre for History.

“The course gave me a huge amount of insight into the history of this area, which I have visited many times. It really helps me with the cultural part of the students’ education on this trip.”