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Postcards from Abroad

Study away highlights submitted by Duke students

  • exploring the ice caves in Mendenhall Glacier (Juneau, Alaska)
After a hike, Blaire and her classmates explored the ice caves located in Mendenhall Glacier (Juneau, Alaska).

The Duke in Alaska program offered Blaire Rikard a practical reason to do the program – it fulfilled the Organismal Diversity Biology Area Requirement for her major in biology (pre-med). However, she was pleasantly surprised to find the program also expanded her interests in environmental sustainability, ecology, and conservation, all of which inspired her plans for the following summer.

On how her ideas and perceptions changed with the program…

As a result of this program, I gained a better understanding of environmental sustainability and living off of the land. In Alaska, my eyes were opened to the importance of conservation, native issues, and our responsibilities in protecting our environment.

Specifically in Alaska, we visited Utqiaġvik, the northernmost point in the U.S. There, along with the indigenous Inupiaq Eskimos, we took part in Nalukataq, a traditional festival to celebrate a successful whale-hunting season. This festival was extremely eye-opening as we witnessed its emphasis on their ‘no trace left behind’ culture. These Alaskans understand the importance of utilizing the entire whale. Their winter sustenance depends on their whaling abilities, something few of us have ever experienced.

The class on the arctic ice in Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States.
Our class on the arctic ice in Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States.


On why she chose the program…

As a Biology major, the Duke in Alaska program was the perfect way to fulfill a major requirement while having a study away experience. This program meets the Organismal Diversity Biology Area Requirement.

In Juneau, Blaire’s class examined the boreal rainforest biome while walking the Auke Lake Trail.
In Juneau, our class examined the boreal rainforest biome while walking the Auke Lake Trail.


On how her skills and knowledge changed with the program…

Prior to this program, I had little exposure to environmental biology. Yet, through Duke in Alaska, I enhanced my environmental biology exposure by learning how to use a field guide to identify local flora and fauna in different biomes.

Blaire’s class took a boat trip out of Seward, Alaska, where they saw bald eagles, puffins, whales, sea otters, sea lions and seals.
Our class took a boat trip out of Seward, Alaska, where we saw bald eagles, puffins, whales, sea otters, sea lions, and seals.


view from our boat trip out of Seward, Alaska
View from the boat on our boat trip out of Seward, Alaska


On how the program will play into the rest of her undergraduate experience…

After taking this course, I have a newfound interest in ecology. As a biology pre-med student, I have always been drawn to anatomy/physiology courses and those centered around human biology. However, Duke in Alaska expanded my interests, and, therefore, this summer I am participating in DukeEngage Thailand, focusing on conservation and the environment.


evening sunset
During the summer in Alaska, daylight lasts almost all day. Though the sunsets are short, the views are spectacular.


On advice she has for people considering the program…

I would definitely encourage students to choose this program, no matter their major. It was one of the highlights of my Duke experience! My appreciation for the environment and our responsibility to it was greatly expanded. By studying the four major Alaskan biomes, I was left in awe of its natural landscapes, its wildlife, and its indigenous people.

Blaire Rikard
Biology, Class of 2020


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Duke in Alaska




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