This description of the Beam Reach curriculum is meant to help you work with your academic advisors and registrar to ensure the useful transfer of credits to your home institution. The curriculum is composed of two courses that are approved for credit by the University of Washington (UW). With adequate preparations the credits on your official UW transcript may help satisfy your major and/or distribution requirements, enabling you to participate in Beam Reach without delaying your graduation.

This page presents the state of the curriculum as of February, 2012, when it was reviewed by the Committee on Undergraduate Education of the School of Oceanography, within the University of Washington’s College of the Environment. We thank the members of the Committee for their interest and oversight: Susan Hautala, Evelyn Lessard, Evan Solomon, Michelle Townsend, Mikelle Nuwer, and Rick Keil.

Jump to: Overview | Learning outcomes | Courses and credits | Contact hours and schedules | Syllabi | Student products | Long-term strategy and assessment


Those not yet familiar with Beam Reach can get a quick overview of the 10-week program by watching this 3-minute video:

A glimpse into the Beam Reach program — a 10-week sustainability science experience designed for advanced undergraduates and recent graduates. Explore southern resident killer whales and the Salish Sea — from physical oceanography and phytoplankton through forage fish and salmon to the endangered orcas themselves. Conduct your own research project while studying and living at the Friday Harbor Labs and on a sailing research vessel. Board our silent biodiesel-electric catamaran that lets you use pioneering bioacoustic techniques and immerses you in adventure, teamwork and leadership training, sustainable technology, and increased environmental awareness.

This curriculum represents the core program of the Beam Reach marine science and sustainability school: a 10-week-long college-level “voyage” — both on land at the Friday Harbor Labs and at sea on a sailing research vessel. The curriculum was created in 2005 through a collaborative, outcomes-based design process that engaged the Beam Reach Academic Advisors, as well as faculty, staff, and students. The design benefited from an analysis of good precedents in marine research experiences for undergraduates.

Learning outcomes

Undergraduates who successfully complete the Beam Reach curriculum master:

  1. each step in a 10-week research collaboration with peers and a scientific mentor — from initial questions and proposals on land, through data collection and analysis at sea, to final papers and presentations in the destination port;
  2. a basic understanding of the oceanic environment, marine ecosystems, and human interaction with the sea;
  3. assessment of sustainable technologies and practices, especially those utilized on the Beam Reach vessel, and implementation of a service project that makes a marine activity more sustainable;
  4. safe navigation and efficient operation of a sailing research vessel during a multi-week voyage; and
  5. setting and achieving personal goals, cooperating within a small group, and acting as a leader.

Courses and credits

In order to successfully attract students from a inter/national audience of science, engineering, and non-science majors, the integrated curriculum is divided into a set of courses that will satisfy distribution or major requirements at many students’ home institutions. Most students prearrange to make such use of their UW credits; about 20% also acquire sufficient data, experience, and results to develop and present a senior thesis. The program appeals most to upper level undergraduates (sophomores and juniors, as well as some seniors) who have interests in marine science, sustainability, and/or going to sea. However, about 25% of the students are recent graduates, many of whom are accepted to or considering graduate or professional school.

The curriculum is delivered as a set of linked courses which are approved for 18 quarter credits (12 semester credits) by the University of Washington (UW) through the School of Oceanography and administered through UW Professional & Continuing Education. For each individual course, we present a Course Outcome Guide (COG) that specifies more-detailed outcomes, assessments, and content of a particular course.

Course Outcome Guides

Contact hours and schedules

The Beam Reach curriculum involves intense interaction of faculty and students. Contact hours are approximately 6 hours/day on land (5 days/week) and at least 10 hours/day at sea (7 days/week). Typically, total contact involves about 490 hours at student:faculty ratios of 6:1 on land and 3:1 at sea. Based on an analysis of contact hours and accreditation in comparable field science experiences, we propose the Beam Reach program continue to provide students with a minimum of 18 quarter credits (12 semester credits) that may be transferred to their home institution.


The distribution of contact hours and learning activities during a typical week on land is specified in the following table. Additional contact hours occur during some meals, as well as informal gatherings during evening and weekend hours.

Day 9:00-10:30 am 10:45-12:15 12:15-1:30pm
1:30-3:00 pm 3:30-5:00 pm Evening
Mon Sustainability Science Sustainable Technologies Mentor meetings Research Design Design/Communication:
journal club
Mentor meetings
Tue Research Design Design/Communication:
Mentor meetings Research Design
Wed Sustainability Science Sustainable Technology
Thu Research Design Design/Communication:
Research Design
Fri Sustainability Science Sustainable Technology Research Design Design/Communication:
Sat Self-guided field trips or experiments

On land, mornings are usually more structured and emphasize scheduled presentations from faculty and visiting scientists. Afternoons generally are more interactive and center around, labs, group activities, or field experiences. Students meet with their mentor for an hour each week, often during meal times. Lunch time is aligned with meal hours in Friday Harbor’s dining hall. Weekends are relatively unstructured, but sometimes involve optional self-directed field trips in the San Juan Islands.


At sea, students interact with instructors almost continuously, often throughout the day, 7 days/week, for weeks at a time. While the schedule is more dynamic, academic contact hours typically occur during weekly mentor meetings, daily research sessions, equipment demonstrations, and short lectures. Each morning, instructors and students meet to set the day’s scientific and sustainability goals and decide how to accomplish them while safely operating and monitoring the vessel. The following list characterizes common activities during the sea component.

  • Typical morning meeting:
    • 40 min: student reports on sailing, science, technology, and resources
    • 20 min: discussion and plan establishment
  • Academic activities (delivered as field research, sailing, and weather allows)
    • Sailing lesson by captain
    • Short lecture by instructor(s)
    • Equipment demonstrations and practice
    • Deployment and recovery practice
  • Once per week when living aboard: all hands clean, maintain, and re-provision the research vessel; each student meets 1-on-1 with their mentor, has personal reflection time, showers, and cleans clothes.


The day-to-day implementation of the courses has varied over the years, based on availability of guest lecturers and special events like local conferences. The detailed sequence of learning activities and assessments are archived in the on-line syllabi for each course. Fop example, here is a direct link to the fall 2011 syllabus (Google document).

Student products

At Beam Reach you get to develop and answer your own scientific question — from initial hypotheses through data collection and analysis to final presentation of your results. You can ask any question within your program’s research theme. Learning assessments include: a list of your 5 initial questions; a research proposal; a research paper; a final presentation (oral or poster); your final 5 questions; exercises and labs; sustainability and service projects; and at least 5 blog posts.

Your research project can be completely unique or can build upon previous work by local scientists and past Beam Reach students. Check out the research topics of past and present students:

You can explore the spreadsheet of past student research by sorting on any column (e.g. general topic, season, or year). The first two digits of the class represent the year. There are links to the class home pages where you can access papers and other results.

Students also contribute to building our extensive library of published scientific literature, grey literature, reports, and theses related to marine science and sustainability. All titles are available to students and staff while on land or at sea. New references can be accessed through the UW library when on land at the Friday Harbor Labs. Below is a sample of the digital library.

You can learn even more about marine science and sustainability progress made by Beam Reach students and staff by diving into the science and sustainability wiki. There you’ll find descriptions of our equipment, data archives, long-term research projects, publications, and projects to reduce human impacts on endangered orcas, salmon, and their marine ecosystem.

Long-term strategy and assessment

The curriculum describes a learning environment that is constrained by a suite of logistical factors. The curriculum and its learning outcomes are affected by diverse constraints: seasonal availability of the land campus (Friday Harbor Labs); vessel capabilities and acquisition strategies; weather patterns and scientific opportunities in the Pacific; academic calendars; the undergraduate market and program marketability; and faculty lifestyles.

Overarching outcomes and long-term assessment

The Beam Reach undergraduate curriculum is designed to achieve 2 overarching

  1. students, faculty, and alumni advancing marine science through research and education, and
  2. students, faculty, and alumni enhancing and promulgating sustainable technologies and practices in the
    marine environment.

Advancement of marine research by students is assessed in the short-term by
audience ratings of final presentations and faculty assessment of final papers.
Longer-term success will be defined by the number and quality of student theses
and alumni publications that grow from their Beam Reach research projects.
Research progress by faculty is measured by successful publication of results
in peer-reviewed journals and/or dissemination in the popular media.

Progress in science education is assessed by students and teachers who rate
each other both during and at the end of the land and sea components. Over
longer periods, successful advancement of marine science education by Beam
Reach will be quantified by a growing number of applicants and participants, as
well as the percentage of our alumni who describe Beam Reach as a formative,
valuable experience.

Enhancement of sustainable technologies by Beam Reach is measured by increases
in efficiency and decreases in environmental impacts of school activities.
Successful promulgation is defined by an exchange of technologies and practices
with affiliate organizations that is rated positively by service project
participants from both the Beam Reach and the destination port communities. An
additional metric for assessing effective promulgation is the percentage of
alumni who report that Beam Reach led to more sustainable practices in their
personal lives.

Key questions

What “essential” questions will focus the curriculum and its component courses?

Essential questions elicit the core learning opportunities and outcomes of Beam
Reach. Unit questions are specific to individual voyages and their geographic,
ecological, and cultural contexts.

Essential questions:

  • What is science? How does it differ from other ways of knowing?
  • What is sustainability? What parameters and trends can quantify the sustainability of an activity?
  • How can sustainability scientists not only identify environmental problems, but also help develop solutions?
  • What marvels and resources do the oceans hold and how should humans interact with them?

Specific outcomes and assessments


What will students understand and be able to do upon successful completion of this curriculum?


What will evidence student achievement of the desired learning outcomes?
search, read, and analyze scientific literature faculty and peer rating of retrieval, analysis, and presentation of an
article at the weekly journal club; successful generation of a bibliography
(using bibtex format) in the final paper
acquire and retain new information from readings, oral presentations,
and/or discussions
automatic (extra credit) grading of on-line quizzes designed by faculty
and students to test comprehension of reading, oral presentations, and/or
ask scientific questions (related to Beam Reach research themes, ship
tracks, the concerns of educational or scientific affiliates, available
equipment, etc.)
faculty assessment of questions posed during short projects and in final
research proposal based on questions rubric; faculty assessment of
inquisitiveness during mentoring meetings, field trips, group activities,
discussions, and sea component
develop a scientific procedure to answer a particular question faculty assessment of procedure during short projects and in final
research proposal based on methods rubric; faculty assessment of scientific
methodology in mentoring meetings, proposal, and final paper
write and present a research proposal (as an individual and as a group) faculty and peer grading of final research proposal and its presentation
based on proposal rubric
critique proposals constructively and create a group science plan through cooperation and collaboration faculty and peer grading of performance during proposal review and
generation of an integrated (group) science plan
use journaling, structured reflection, and interaction with a mentor to accelerate personal growth, adapt to group dynamics, and thoughtfully observe the marine environment daily web-log entry (blog including at least comments on current day and
plans for next); constructive participation in group reflective activities;
faculty assessment of progress toward personal goals between mentoring
meetings; peer assessment of individual contributions to realizing the group
science plan
sail, navigate, solve problems, and make observations aboard a research
vessel (that demonstrates sustainable technologies)
pass performance tasks related to small boats during land component;
captain and watch leader assessment of vessel management skill acquisition
during sea component
analyze data using basic statistical and computational methods/tools faculty observation of statistical and computational learning on land
during short projects; faculty and peer judgments based on data analysis and
presentation rubrics applied during daily reports (science and/or sustainable
technology), peer-review of manuscripts, and final presentations; public
assessment of educational service project based on rubrics
distill published literature and new results into written/oral presentations faculty assessment of short projects (based on short project rubric);
faculty and peer assessment of the final paper (and its drafts); results of
submittal to a peer-reviewed journal for publication
publicize results/products through an educational or service project (that
involves sharing/exchanging sci/enviro/sust_tech ideas)
faculty, peer, and public assessment of educational or service project
(based on relevant rubrics).