Why Students Should Attend the Summer Program
By Summer Boulais
Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory is located in the upper west corner of Washington in Anacortes. It is owned and operated by Walla Walla University for the use of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses and lab techniques in the marine field. 
Dr. Kirt Onthank, associate professor of biology, has been the director of Rosario’s summer program since January of 2019. “What I look forward to most each summer is the ability to work side by side with students on original research projects,” Onthank said.  Students get to choose a research topic to present at a symposium to their peers and professors near the end of the summer.
Observing students’ focus on their projects is described by Onthank as invigorating because “students feel they are doing something worthwhile and interesting.”  Groups of students get to work together on a certain problem or issue they can solve with the resources provided at Rosario. “Working with students in that context is satisfying and rewarding,” Onthank explained. 
Attendees of the summer program learn about the process of science through hands-on experience in a learning environment right on the beach. Typically, students will only take a couple of courses that are both related to biology, and they spend their time studying in the unique learning environment Rosario has to offer.
Onthank described one of the special moments students may get to experience: “As you’re sitting in a lecture about some ocean process, you can turn your head towards the window and look out at the ocean you are learning about. At any moment you could be learning about ocean environments, and you could see one of the largest predators swim by.”  The predator Onthank referred to are orcas, which hunt the largest animal on earth, the blue whale.
Participants also bond together outside of the classroom playing volleyball, looking out at the ocean at sunset, and worshipping together.  “Worships are meaningful and real because they are laid back, spontaneous, aren’t required, and you get to have earnest conversations about spiritual things beyond the day-to-day,” Onthank explained.  Students and faculty get the opportunity to eat and worship together as they grow spiritually throughout the summer.
Last summer at Rosario went well, according to Onthank, in moving back towards normalcy along with the main campus. He explained that “every summer has its own personality.”  Even with COVID-19 restrictions, Rosario provides unique opportunities for students to learn about marine processes and truly engage in what they are learning.
Applications open mid-February for those interested in registering for Rosario’s 2022 summer program. Students can learn more details and apply on the WWU website at https://www.wallawalla.edu/index.php?id=236.
1. WWU (2022). Discover the World of Marine Biology. Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory: Summer Program. https://www.wallawalla.edu/index.php?id=236
2-5. Interview with Kirt Onthank, 1/13/22.
6. rosariobeachmarinelab. (2021). It’s hard to believe it’s been two months since we gathered for the summer 2021 picnic and group photo. [Instagram Post]. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CVO0vEjJZ0M/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
7-8. Interview with Kirt Onthank, 1/13/22.