Southeast Missouri State University
For more information, contact:
Ann K. Hayes (573) 651-2552




CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Nov. 22, 2002 - Southeast Missouri State University alumna Christina Shamel recently went north to Alaska for the experience of a lifetime.

Shamel, of Lebanon, Mo., graduated from Southeast in August with a bachelor of science degree, double majoring in recreation and biology, with an emphasis in marine biology. She just returned from a five-month internship in Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park.

Shamel interned with Kenai Fjords Tours, a whale watching and glacier viewing company that tours the boundaries of the Kenai Fjords National Park. "I knew that I wanted to work in the marine environment since I was in the eighth grade," Shamel said. "When this internship came up, it was exactly what I was looking for, and I was pleased that it incorporated both of my majors."

The Kenai Fjords National Park is composed of more than 650,000 acres on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. The area earned its designation as a national park because of attractions such as the Harding Icefield, a remnant of the last ice age which is large enough to cover Rhode Island and conceals a mountain range under several thousand feet of ice; over 30 active glaciers that flow from the icefield; and a wide array of wildlife including bears, moose, marmots, mountain goats, bald eagles, sea otters and whales. The park has only one trail and glacier, Exit Glacier, that can be reached by vehicle. While some visitors view the park's remaining scenic wilderness and outreaching glaciers by air, others opt to see the sights by sea, on day cruises like those offered by the company with which Shamel interned.

Shamel's main internship project was to revise an existing 13-page narration manual, used by the company's captains and crew, to a 50-page comprehensive guide. She learned a lot in the process. "It was a huge project that took lots of time, but I am very proud of it," she said. Shamel was very thorough in her research for the project, going as far as to attend meetings on her days off and participate in oil changes and other minor mechanical repairs on the vessels.

The other part of Shamel's internship consisted of 12-hour days on one of the company's touring ships. "The company has 13 vessels, but I usually worked on the Kenai Explorer, which is over 90 feet long and holds 150 people for a nine-hour tour," she said. Her day would begin with cleaning and other ship preparations two hours before the tour was scheduled for departure, and end an hour after the tour was completed. During the cruises, she assisted with boarding and passenger safety and also answered passengers' questions. Shamel had the chance to use her marine biology knowledge during the cruises as well, providing narration over the ship's public address system during the whale watching segments of the trip.

"It was not unusual to see four types of whales or up to eight of the same whales in one tour," she said. "The day I will never forget, however, was when a curious cow humpback whale and her calf came right up to our boat. We shut our vessel down and drifted and the whales came right up to the bow of the boat and just watched us. They spy hopped (raised one eye out of the water to see) several times and we could hear them talking. Every time they broke the surface to breath, they sprayed us with water. The whales stayed with us for 30 minutes. We couldn't start up our vessel until they were a safe distance away, and we were worried that if they didn't leave, we might have to spend the night with them."

The inspiration that the experience of living and working in America's last frontier provided Shamel is evident. "The Kenai Fjords National Park is a geological wonder," said Shamel. "You can see the affect that the glaciers have had in creating fjords (areas that have been carved by glaciers and filled with seawater), and there are many rock formations caused by earthquakes and continental collisions.

Shamel lived in Seward, Alaska, a town of approximately 4,000, during her internship. "In the summer months, Seward is packed with cruise ships and campers," she said. "It is the nicest town where everyone helps everyone else. At times, it seemed like a whole new world."

She didn't have a vehicle, so she walked a lot. "My apartment was one mile from work, so I walked two miles every day." She often walked to other destinations as well, or rode with friends. "I could always take a taxi if I wanted," she added. "Locals got to know me, though, and on rainy days would often give me a lift. I wasn't used to that type of lifestyle, but those walks usually turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the day."

Her adventurous spirit is unmistakable. When she wasn't working, Shamel explored Alaska's wilderness. "I hiked to the tops of mountains, to waterfalls and to streams to watch salmon spawn. I also went sea kayaking, dog sledding, took aerial tours in helicopters and planes, and visited Denali National Park." (Denali National Park is home to North America's highest mountain, 20,320-foot tall Mount McKinley.) She also enjoyed spending time with her friends from work, she said, and catching quiet moments to herself, reading in a hammock she made from fishing net in the woods behind her apartment.

She didn't always have to look for adventure, though. "I saw many moose while I was in Alaska," Shamel said. "In fact, we would look out our living room and kitchen windows and see them in the woods in our backyard. We had one 'regular' cow and twin calves that stayed in a small field across the street."

Shamel did have a frightening encounter with a brown bear. "My friend and I had hiked up to the Harding Icefield. At the end of the trail, we spotted a bear coming across the icefield at a very rapid pace. We knew we needed to start moving. Just then the bear stopped and rested so we thought we were fine and slowly started heading back to the trailhead. My friend was at the top of a very steep slope that we had to climb before we had a constant slope downhill for the remainder of the trail. He turned to see how I was doing, (Shamel was sore from hiking Mt. Marathon the previous day.) and his eyes got huge and he yelled at me to get moving. I looked behind me and the bear was not far away and running at great speeds. It was running in a zigzag motion, tracing our scent. I tried to hurry up the slope, but my legs were worn out and I didn't think I could make it.

"I hollered for him to go ahead, but he came back down and pushed me up the remaining 30 yards," she said. "We ran the rest of the way down the trail, which was really hard to do in a foot and a half of snow. In places where the slope was steep enough, we slid down. The bear did the same, except it slid on its belly going face first. We finally made it to the trailhead and warned everyone. I was really scared and shaking. I know you're never supposed to run from a bear, but that was our first instinct, and we just wanted to stay far enough ahead of the bear so it could only smell us and not see us."

In addition to her exciting encounters with brown bears, moose, and humpback whales, Shamel said she saw an abundance of other wildlife as well, including fin whales, which are the second largest animals on earth; beluga, minke, and killer whales; Steller sea lions; harbor seals; black bears, caribou and marmots.

Shamel's internship coordinator, Dr. Edward Leoni, professor of health and leisure, helped Shamel arrange her internship by putting her in contact with New York Times best selling author Peter Jenkins, who lived in Alaska for 18 months while writing his recent book Looking for Alaska. Jenkins gave Shamel several references to contact in Alaska, one of which developed into her internship.

"An internship is experiential learning, and you can't offer too much of this type of learning, where a student gets to apply what they've learned during four years of coursework," Leoni said. "It's a win/win situation. The student benefits from it and the employer benefits," he said. "It also allows students the opportunity to go places they might not otherwise have been able to go. Our recreation program has placed students in internships in almost every state and in many countries. It gives them invaluable experience that they can share during their upcoming interview process, which is why we have such a good job placement rate here."

Shamel says she benefited greatly from this internship. "I learned so much this summer about the recreation and biology fields, and about my own strengths and weaknesses. I met a lot of great people and made networking contacts from all over the world. And more personally, I proved that I haven't given up on what I have dreamt of doing for the last 10 years."

She is currently searching for jobs in the marine biology and outdoor recreation and education fields. "The responsibility and knowledge of the environment and of business management that I gained during this internship has improved my qualifications for any of these jobs," she said.

The internship was a rewarding experience for Shamel, both personally and professionally. "It was the best five months of my life," she said. "Alaska is the most beautiful place I've ever seen. It incorporates mountains, oceans, wildlife and the nicest people I've ever met. I learned a lot."

Ninety percent of all Southeast students benefit from at least one experiential learning experience, or internship, in their field during their time at Southeast. Fifty-three percent of students benefit from three or more experiential learning opportunities. These experiences allow students to gain real-world experience, enabling students who experience Southeast to experience success.


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