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Knox College student Debora Lustgarten '20 aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans


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Debora Ortiz '20

Quito, Ecuador

Major in Economics and Minor in Environmental Studies

Debora sailed across the Pacific Ocean to learn about the economic and environmental challenges faced by Pacific Islanders.

Knox College student Debora Lustgarten '20 aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans

Debora studied abroad on SSV Robert C. Seamans through the SEA Semester (Woods Hole) Program in Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems. The trip featured a NASA scientist who carried out research on the Pacific Islands.  

Tell us about your study abroad experience.

The study abroad program had two components: a shore component and a sea component. I was in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, for the first four weeks of the program, studying nautical science, oceanography, marine history, and anthropology. The purpose of the shore component in Woods Hole was to prepare us for our time at sea. For my academic project, I decided to focus on the economic side of fisheries in the places we were going to visit, urbanization in South Pacific islands, and the relationship between phytoplankton and pH levels.

The six-week sea component was intense but immensely rewarding. We joined the ship in American Samoa, sailed on to Tonga and Fiji, and then finally reached New Zealand. We took sea samples almost every day and analyzed chlorophyll levels, pH levels, and zooplankton by using specialized equipment from our lab on board. We also had the chance to meet with people who were experts on environmental topics and engage with the local communities at our port stops. With help from the mates and scientists on board, we learned to manage the boat and became junior watch officers toward the end of the program. My favorite part about the sea component was the relationships I built with the people I lived with. Being so far away from mainstream life, I learned a lot about hard work, teamwork, and living purposefully.

What at Knox has had a significant impact on your education?

I really like that I was able to take classes in different departments and discover, for example, that I really enjoy environmental studies. By doing this, I was able to learn that many of the environmental issues we face today can be connected back to economics. When I went up to my advisor, Professor Scotton, with the idea of doing SEA, she was very supportive and encouraged me to do it. I was unsure about my study abroad program because it wasn’t related to economics, but she brought up how significant the liberal arts component of a Knox education is. She was very right.

How did your Knox experience prepare you for the program?

As an international student, getting used to living and studying in another country taught me a lot about open mindedness and resilience. Knox also taught me how to truly be myself and present my best qualities to other people. I believe I’ve learned how to do that by interacting with my professors, classmates, supervisors, and co-workers. Finally, the education I’ve received at Knox has taught me to be critical and persuasive, which I believe are qualities that have helped me express myself freely and stand out.

At Knox, Debora is a member of the sorority Tri Delta. She also participates in the Anything is Possible Foundation, KnoxCorps, and Hillel Club.  

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Printed on Monday, June 21, 2021