“We are providing students the best of our modern scientific knowledge within the context of the best of their traditional practices,” Richmond says. “We’re developing a curriculum with materials pretty specific to the islands, linking it to things they have experience with, in particular, land-sea connections.”
For example, the program recently developed and printed a guidebook that teaches inductive and deductive reasoning using coral reef case histories from the Pacific Islands. “It challenges the students to solve environmental problems, like the death of a reef from sedimentation,” Richmond says. “Each chapter provides a variety of data including some that are irrelevant. The students need to sort through the information, develop and test hypotheses, and in the process, use their knowledge to determine the real cause and effect relationships.”
Faculty from each participating institution also develop field experiences tied to the curriculum materials that are specific to their own islands. They participate in annual “footlocker” workshops, where they are trained in the use of specific equipment—knowledge they then take home to use with their students.
“Decisions are being made on the islands every day, and we want to provide the students with the scientific tools to make the right decisions.” he says. “The health of their resources and the health of the oceans are tied to how they make decisions.”
The program has a strong focus on job preparation, and “will help local agencies and employers hire locally,” Richmond says. “We want to build up the work force on the islands, and fill many of these positions with local people who have acquired these new skills. The idea is that they will stay and bring their culture into the decision-making process.”