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  • Locations: Sapelo Island, GA, United States;
  • Program Terms: Maymester
  • Cost of Attendance Sheets: Maymester
  • This program is currently not accepting applications.
Dates / Deadlines:

There are currently no active application cycles for this program.
Fact Sheet:
Fact Sheet:
Program Category: UGA Domestic Click here for a definition of this term Open to non-UGA students: Yes
Click here for a definition of this term Number of Student Participants: 6-10 students Classes With: U.S. Students, UGA Students
Taught By: UGA/U.S. Professor(s) College/School: Franklin
Language Program: No Language of Instruction: English
Minimum number of credit hours: 6 Maximum number of credit hours: 6
Work Opportunity: No Volunteer Opportunity: No
Scholarship Availability: Yes Housing Location: Off-Campus
Program Description:

This program will not be running in 2020. For more information about 2021, please contact the Program Director below.

UGA's Geography of the Georgia Coast Domestic Field Study program

UGA’s Geography of the Georgia Coast Maymester offers immersive, service learning experiences about the politics of land, resources and conservation at the University of Georgia Marine Institute (UGAMI) on Sapelo Island.  The program is open to undergraduate students, from any college or university and fulfills UGA's Experiential Learning (EL) requirement

This field program provides students the opportunity to explore the diverse development pressures the Georgia coast is facing and the conservation strategies being used by residents on Sapelo Island.  The program's service-learning, experiential approach emphasizes community-based learning in partnership with island residents and stakeholders. 
Recent media attention has captured the struggles and possibilities of people living in the community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island, the last intact Gullah/Geechee community of the Georgia Sea Islands, whose residents are direct descendants of slaves brought to the island in 1802. A 2012 New York Times article titled “Taxes Threaten an Island Culture in Georgia” ignited national media attention when it reported that rapidly increasing taxes, driven by exurban development, threaten to displace the remaining descendant residents of the community. Striking a more hopeful tone, a 2016 CNN story titled “An Island's Future Tied to Farming Crops from the Past” reported that Geechee residents have invested in an economic development strategy in an effort to preserve their fragile culture and ensure future generations would not be displaced from the island. This strategy is based in cultivating the heritage crops that were first planted and harvested two centuries earlier by the slaves who provided agricultural knowledge and labor when Sapelo Island was an antebellum plantation. This class is a partner in this economic/agricultural development project through affiliation with the Cornelia Walker Bailey Program on Land and Agriculture that Nik Heynen co-directs with Maurice Bailey.

As a residential field program, students and faculty get to know one-another outside of the classroom and often develop lasting relationships that benefit students as they embark on their careers.  UGAMI offers life-changing experiences for undergraduate and graduate students. The essence of the UGAMI student experience is characterized by:
  • Immersion – Complete immersion in field-based academic studies.
  • Mentorship – Close mentorship by faculty who are experts in their fields of study.
  • Engagement – Being part of an engaged, supportive community of scholars.
This program is relatively affordable because it does not require international air travel, visas, additional vaccinations, travel insurance, etc.

Program Location
UGA’s Geography of the Georgia Coast Maymester takes place at the University of Georgia Marine Institute (UGAMI), on Sapelo Island.  UGAMI is a world-renowned center for marine ecological research that attracts scientists and students from around the globe. Students at UGAMI find a vibrant, collegial community of scholars from multiple institutions and fields of study who value and inspire curiosity about the natural world. 

Sapelo Island is a 16,500-acre subtropical barrier island off Georgia’s central coast (20 miles north of Brunswick and 50 miles south of Savannah). Accessible only by passenger ferry, Sapelo Island and the surrounding region is largely undeveloped. The R.J. Reynolds Wildlife Management Area and the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve comprise most of Sapelo Island’s land area. UGAMI is located on the southern tip of Sapelo Island, on the shore of Doboy Sound, and within the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve.  Nearby natural areas include the Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge, Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area. Georgia’s central coast boasts one of the most pristine estuaries in the lower 48 states of the U.S.  Sapelo Island is also the closest point of land to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

UGAMI is a marine field station that supports the research and teaching of faculty from many institutions.  The mission of the UGA Marine Institute (UGAMI) is to provide exceptional opportunities for research and university-level education in coastal ecosystems.  Located within the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, UGAMI is a living laboratory that offers uncommon access to coastal habitats, including the nearshore ocean, estuarine sounds, salt marshes, tidal creeks, beaches, dunes, maritime forests, and freshwater wetlands. Long-term ecological monitoring data, together with the results from hundreds of published research papers, make UGAMI a treasured field destination for scientists and students.

UGAMI has been at the forefront of estuarine and marine ecology for seven decades.  Faculty and students at UGAMI study marine ecology at the molecular, organismal, population, community, and ecosystem levels.  UGAMI is the home base of the Georgia Coastal Ecosystems (GCE) – Long Term Ecological Research program, which is part of the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research network.  The GCE is one of the largest ecological research programs in the southeastern United States.

Sapelo Island’s historic Hog Hammock community is one of the last remaining Gullah/Geechee communities.  The neighboring town of Darien, on the mainland, is home to Georgia’s largest commercial fishing fleet.  Thus, Sapelo Island and the surrounding region is both culturally and ecologically significant.

Contact Information
Nik Heynen
Professor of Geography
Department of Geography
University of Georgia
210 Field St., Room 204,
Athens, GA 30602

Office Phone: 706-542-1954
UGAMI Education Programs:


Academic Program
UGA’s Geography of the Georgia Coast Maymester students will take introductory sessions held at UGA in Athens May 15, 16, 17. and will be on Sapelo Island for two weeks between May 19 and June 2.  The program consists of 6 credit hours, including:
GEOG 2610: Geography of Georgia
GEOG 4810: Conservation Ecology and Resource Management

All courses are approved for the UGA curriculum (meaning that UGA students automatically receive credit and that transient students from other colleges or universities typically have an easier time petitioning their home institution to accept transfer credit because the courses are taught by an accredited U.S. university). 


Program Itinerary
UGA’s Geography of the Georgia Coast Maymester will take place between May 13th and June 3rd, 2020.  Class will be held in Athens between May 13 and 17 and on Sapelo Island between May 17 and May 31, 2020.  There are several days set aside at the end of the class for complete course work remotely. During the program we will learn about the historical-geography of the Georgia Coast and the ongoing pressures felt through increased development, property politics and local efforts for land conservation.  Beyond classroom work, we will also engage in a service-learning project on Sapelo Island in partnership with island residents and other Island stakeholders.  In order to better understand the changing dynamics of the coast we will go to several other areas including Brunswick, St. Simon Island and Little St. Simon Island as well as other places.
Students and faculty live on-site at the University of Georgia Marine Institute (UGAMI), on Sapelo Island.  Student dormitories consist of double-occupancy rooms and are located within 50 meters of the research laboratories and the estuarine waters of Doboy Sound.  Each dorm room has a bathroom with shower.  Laundry machines are provided, free of charge.  Each dorm unit has a fully-equipped kitchen.  Dorm units have common lounge areas and a new student recreation room was completed in summer of 2019.       

UGAMI provides all dinners, which are served in its dining hall.  Faculty usually join the students for dinner.  Because so much time during the day is spent in the field and the field schedule varies so much (often depending on the tides and weather), students provide their own breakfasts and lunches, which they can prepare in their dorm kitchens.  Weekly grocery shopping trips to the mainland will be organized by program staff.


"This was hands down the best experience I’ve had in my 3+ years of college. The entire trip was filled with experiences that were rewarding, exciting, and fun, and I learned more about the island’s incredible history and culture in three short weeks than I would have ever thought possible. Sapelo Island went from being a random island I barely knew anything about to an island that will have a special place in my heart for the rest of my life."

"I have to say committing myself to the Maymester in Sapelo Island was a wonderful decision.  I can remember the beauty and the learning experience like it was yesterday.  Sapelo Island is truly unforgettable.  It is a adventure that is simple but rewarding.  The instruction that I received was superior.  We did not just spend our time learning, but we became advocates of change.  We created plans, and we put change into action.  I cannot wait to visit Sapelo again."

"I had the best time studying on Sapelo Island, Georgia. Nik inspired me to study more geography and I met some really wonderful people. If you don’t go, you are just wasting your time!"

"My time spent on Sapelo was well worth it and I will never forget the people I met and the memories I made with everyone working together on something really special. I recommend this Maymester to anyone, regardless of your major! You won’t regret it." 

"I learned so much about the history of Georgia and the cultural heritage of the Gullah-Geechee people through my experience on Sapelo Island. The trip is practically for anyone who is interested in helping preserve the integrity of the Saltwater Geechees on the island; it is not for only geography majors. I am an accounting major, and I found the program to be a wise and meaningful investment in my academic career because I will now be able to get a geography minor."

"Meaningful community-based projects combined with worthwhile readings created a distinctly memorable course experience in May 2017. I feel lucky to have participated on the inaugural trip!  I departed this trip with a holistic understanding of coastal past and present, with lessons about current development trends solidified by road tripping from the beaches of St. Simons Island to hiking through Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge. Perhaps the best indicator of a class's success is if, and how much, the experience sticks with you. For what it's worth, I keep coming back to the coast. The deep histories we learned and powerful conversations with residents I met inform the way I think about not only Georgia's coastal history, but also our nation's history, and influence how I respond to current events." 

This program is currently not accepting applications.