Science students swap continents to better understand the world

Jason Gerlach, a watershed student, studied abroad in England and Iceland as part of an exchange program with the University of Exeter.
Jason Gerlich scopes out his field site at a geothermal vent at the top of the catchment in the Havergadi valley.

Jason Gerlich traveled nearly 5,000 miles across an ocean to deepen his watershed science knowledge. While working on Iceland’s coast, the Colorado State University student soon discovered that to understand a watershed’s characteristics, he needed to know how organisms function within it. So, he spent a summer analyzing six streams in the Hveragerði catchment so he could understand the microbial communities within them. Gerlich got to know himself a bit better, too, discovering that broadening his scientific focus and embracing new learning styles made him a more resilient scientist.

Gerlich, a watershed science junior and honors student in the Warner College of Natural Resources, spent Spring 2017 studying abroad at the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus in Cornwall, U.K., where he took classes in sustainability and watershed, and then conducted summer research in Iceland centered around the idea that temperature is critical to understanding the structure and function of an ecosystem.

“The field course taught me useful lab and field techniques, and also that no matter how specific your degree might be, there is always more to learn,” said Gerlich. “Being a watershed scientist, researching community ecology seemed a little outside of my realm, but now I understand how everything is tied together and relevant to my degree.”

Accessible science exchange program

The University of Exeter exchange program is one of CSU’s strongest international academic partners, especially in the sciences, according to Laura Thornes, director of Education Abroad. It offers very similar subjects to CSU, including studies in environmental science, renewable energy, natural sciences, geology, and biosciences. Exeter’s Penryn campus offers extended learning and research opportunities because of its coastal location. Thornes compares the offerings in Cornwall to the extended learning opportunities available at CSU’s Mountain Campus.

“Exchange programs like Exeter are a financially more accessible way for many students to study abroad,” said Thornes. “Because students continue to pay CSU’s tuition and don’t have to pay the host institution’s tuition, they only need to expand their existing budgets to include travel costs for living abroad.”

An enriching exchange

 Exeter student Kristen Buckle studies math and physics in her home country. She spent the Fall 2017 semester studying those subjects, and the landscape of learning, in the U.S. as part of the CSU/Exeter exchange.

“I’ve had such an enriching time at CSU,” she said.  “I have learned so much about different cultures, including more about my own – phrases or brands that I didn’t realize were unique to the U.K. until I came here.”

Buckle said her favorite part of the exchange experience was the people and how much of the U.S. she’s been able to see. She’s taken weekend trips to Utah and Colorado mountain towns, and longer trips to iconic cities such as New York and New Orleans.

Both Gerlich and Buckle note the difference in teaching styles in the two countries, saying that they had to flex beyond comfort zones and embrace different ways of learning during their exchange experiences. Gerlich  earned 20 credits while studying abroad and contributed his talents to research that provides a basis for the effects of global warming on organisms around the world. He is back at CSU now.

Buckle finished up the fall semester at CSU and said she had more traveling to do before heading home to the U.K.

“I would recommend an exchange program to any student studying any subject,” said Buckle. “It really has been one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever done.”

Interested in the CSU/Exeter exchange program?

Fall 2018 deadline: March 1, 2018

Contact: Derek Smallwood, education abroad coordinator,