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C of I student thrives at Alaska SeaLife Center

June 17, 2014

While many College of Idaho students began settling into summer routines after commencement, senior biology major Kelsey Nelson was frantically packing in preparation for one of the nation’s most prestigious internships in the field of marine biology. Just two weeks earlier, Nelson was notified that she would be serving as a Mammal-Interpretation Intern for a 12-week program at the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) in Seward, Alaska. She was one of only 24 interns nationwide selected for the opportunity.

“I only had about 48 hours between moving out of my dorm and leaving for Alaska,” Nelson said. “Figuring out what to pack for 12 weeks was a little bit hectic, but overall, it was a very exciting time.”

Since mid-May, Nelson has been living in Seward and working at the ASLC, Alaska’s premier public aquarium dedicated to developing scientific research and promoting increased awareness of the marine ecosystems of Alaska through the rehabilitation of marine animals and public education.

The internship provides a perfect opportunity for Nelson to pursue her passion for marine biology and ecology.

“I felt that I really needed to explore the opportunities in the field and see what is being done in terms of conservation and research,” Nelson said. “I was definitely interested in the Alaska SeaLife Center from the beginning because of the efforts and strides the center is making not only with public education of marine ecosystems, but also with research.”

Nelson works 40 hours per week at ASLC. Her responsibilities are split between working with the animals and working with the public, but she rarely has a set program during her work days.

“My tasks definitely change from day to day, depending on how many visitors are at the center,” Nelson said. “When working with the interpretive side, I typically work with the public through interpreting exhibits, giving behind-the-scenes tours, and teaching one-hour classes. In the mammal department, my tasks vary from cleaning and food preparation to feeding and enrichment with the animals.”

While Nelson’s internship duties keep her busy, she still finds time to enjoy the Seward experience. The small tourist community has plenty to offer, including hiking, walks at the beach, kayaking and boat tours.

Nelson proudly claims that her experiences at the C of I, particularly in the biology department, have helped her succeed in her internship so far.

“I began to use materials I learned from Dr. Eric Yensen's mammalogy class and Dr. Chris Walser's ecology, evolution and diversity class the first day in my position,” Nelson said. She also credits the College’s Center for Experimental Learning (CEL) for helping her land the internship.

With plans in place to apply for graduate school this fall, Nelson is confident that her experiences as a ASLC intern will help guide her academic future.

“This internship really has given me insight to the research that is currently being conducted about marine organisms and ecosystems, and it has put me in contact with those who are conducting it,” Nelson said.

To learn more about the Alaska SeaLife Center, visit

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another 12 Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit