Intern Energy | Beaufort County Now | Semester at the Coast offers experience, inspiration

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    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Jules Norwood.

Cora McQuaid, right, participated in ECU’s Semester Experience at the Coast and then stayed on through the summer for an internship at the Outer Banks Campus. (Contributed photos)

    "It was like a mini study abroad," said East Carolina University sophomore Cora McQuaid, who spent the spring semester at ECU's Outer Banks Campus as part of the Semester Experience at the Coast program. "I loved the idea of having a little getaway and being able to study in the Outer Banks."

    But the program is much more than a chance to live at the coast for a few months. Students take a full course load of interdisciplinary classes that count toward general education requirements or a minor in coastal and marine studies. They also have the opportunity to participate in lab research and field work with leading researchers in areas such as environmental anthropology, remote sensing of the environment, and analysis techniques and methods of coastal ocean research.

    During her semester at the Outer Banks, McQuaid took two in-person classes with a coastal focus as well as online classes for her major in bioprocess engineering.

    "I took an in-person, field-based course on physical oceanography," she said. "It was a highly engaging and captivating class and was taught by a spectacular professor, Dr. Mike Muglia."

    She thought so much of the experience that she secured a summer internship through the National Renewable Energy Lab, with Muglia as her mentor. Through the internship, she got hands-on experience working on projects involving coastal ocean observations and renewable energy.

    "The Outer Banks is an especially amazing and unique place to be doing coastal ocean research due to our proximity to the Gulf Stream," McQuaid said. "The immense amount of water flowing past Cape Hatteras in the Gulf Stream could be a huge renewable energy resource, and the group I worked with has been developing an underwater kite with Dr. Chris Vermillion's team at N.C. State University to explore harvesting some of that energy."

    Another part of her internship involved helping deploy a wave rider buoy designed to measure characteristics of the wave field including wave height, period and direction, she said. "We then began analyzing and comparing that information with the other wave rider buoys in different parts of the Outer Banks and made a toolbox so that anyone who wants access to this information can have it without having to do so much of the work."

    Along with George Bonner, director, and Dr. Lindsey Dubbs, associate director of the N.C. Renewable Ocean Energy Program, McQuaid taught middle and high school students about electromagnetic induction and how it can be applied in marine energy systems as part of a career fair event called the 4H Electric Congress.

    "This internship has undoubtedly surpassed anything I could have imagined," McQuaid said.

    Her experience at the Outer Banks Campus has only fueled her interest in renewable ocean energy, and she hopes to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to do research in the Netherlands about wave energy conversion or renewable ocean energy. She's also considering pursuing a master's degree in engineering at ECU.

    McQuaid said the faculty and her fellow students felt more like a family than anything else, and she encouraged others to consider the Semester at the Coast program. Another piece of advice, she added, is to make as many connections as possible.

    "It can lead to so many unique opportunities," she said. "Talk to other professors, researchers and people working at the Coastal Studies Institute while you are there because they are always willing to share what they are working on and you never know what new things you might learn about that will pique your interest. ... It is truly beyond any type of traditional learning that I have experienced before."

    ECU's Outer Banks Campus is home to the Coastal Studies Institute, a multi-institutional partnership between ECU and other UNC System schools. The facility spans 213 acres of marshes, scrub wetlands, forested wetlands and sound ecosystems, and houses dive and research vessels, a wave tank, and both laboratory and classroom space.

    Students participating in the Semester Experience at the Coast live in Manteo, about 4 miles from the campus, and the housing and tuition costs are similar to a semester in Greenville.

    Alex Nolte, university program associate at the Coastal Studies Institute, said the goal for spring 2022 is to double the number of students enrolled last spring. "We are confident that as we work to promote the program on main campus and across the region, more and more students will seize the opportunity to study here on the Outer Banks," she said.

    For more information, visit the coastal studies website and contact Nolte at 252-475-5451 or
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