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Smiling students stand in the rain with the beautiful scene of Volcano National Park in Hawaii

Students in Hawaii explore Volcanoes National Park as part of their Environmental Science Course.

Curious what a day in the life of a Verto semester student is like?! Who better to tell you all about it than current Verto students themselves! This week’s blog is written by student Trinity Grafft in Hawaii.

*** This is an example of a student’s experience from Spring 2021. Specific programming and activities are subject to change semester by semester.


In my Cohort, aka Coconut Crew (we got to name ourselves), we currently have our Environmental Science labs on Thursdays. I think that the labs we have done are really cool and hands-on. Here have been some of our labs so far.

On our first in-the-field lab day, we went bird watching at Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens. This park is right by where we are staying while we are here in Hilo, HI. The park is named for Queen Liliʻuokalani since she donated the land and has a Japanese garden within it. We went bird watching because we were learning about evolution and different Hawaiian birds during class our first week. We wanted to see different types of birds, see if they are social birds or not, their beak type, and what they ate due to their beak type. 

We got into groups and moved around to see all the different types of birds currently present at the park and observed them. We were in the field watching them for about two hours. After the bird watching was over, we returned to our classroom and went through owl palettes to see what type of food local owls here eat. It was interesting to do both of these activities since I have never done either before, and it seemed fascinating to see what type of birds there are here.

A bird among the trees. Spotted by our students while birdwatching.

Students go bird watching to learn about the rich biodiversity in Hawaii!


On our second in the field lab day, we went to Richardson’s Beach to do a reef survey. That week, we learned about different Hawaiian fish, coral bleaching, climate change, and the water cycle. We were trying to see how many different types of fish there were, count how many of that kind were swimming, and look at the reefs there. We took a van to get there since it was a little further than our previous lab, and the beach was amazing. The sand at this beach was black. I have always wanted to go to a black sand beach ever since I was little so I finally got that goal in my life completed.

Students play in the water of a Hawaiian black sand beach.

Ever been to a black sand beach?! In Hawaii, black sand beaches are the results of volcanoes!

We went snorkeling while we were there so we could do our surveys. We were all broken up into partners to all survey different parts and stay safe while we were swimming. My partner and I lost our pencil right as we got into the water, so we had to memorize everything we saw so that when we got back to shore, we could write everything down. We swam around, saw some fish and the reef. As we were coming in, however, we found a pencil! We got out and wrote what we saw. We came back to the classroom and tried to figure out our final projects since we are almost done with this class.

Students on a boat in Hawaii

Anyone else love learning by doing?! Verto students dive right in, literally (!), as they snorkel to study marine life.


This past week was our third lab day. We went to Volcanoes National Park. We drove about 45 minutes to get there and we went from sea level to over 3000 ft above sea level in those 45 minutes. We decided as a group to do this four-mile hike into a crater. 

Along the way, I looked around and read the different signs that they had posted with information on the signs. I also saw this big rock and asked about it. Apparently, it was a rock that flew out of the volcano during one of its explosions. On the trail, we got to know about some of the trees and other vegetation that’s around the area. We first had to go downhill to get into the crater, and I almost fell a couple of times. I was also wearing Chacos, so my feet did get really dirty at the hike’s start and all through it.

A group of students stand by the entrance to Volcanoes National Pakr

Students studied about rock types, craters, and more on their visit to Volcanoes National Park.

We made it down into the crater, and it started to pour down rain. It felt good since we were all sweaty and wet a little bit already. We hiked all through the crater, and we tried some Hawaiian blueberries that were growing in the crater. We also felt some hot pockets through the crate, interesting. We enjoyed our time in the crater and had to hike back up, and that was hard. I was very out of breath after that. We finished the day by driving around the park and then headed back to where we are staying.

Happy students hiking through Volcanoes National Park

Hikes are an amazing opportunity to get to know your cohort better!

This upcoming weekend, we have another day exploring a volcano, but this time, at night. We are going to be able to see lava flowing and see it glow at night. I don’t entirely know what we will be doing for a lab next week either, but I know that it will be awesome!