Active lava flow from Puu O'o reaches the ocean at Kalapana - 2017.
The Hawaiian Islands combine one of Earth's greatest natural laboratories with some of humanity's most ambitious attempts to meet the environmental challenges posed by industrial society. They are home to Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano, and to Kilauea, currently in the news thanks to a major eruption. Visitors to the permanent facilities of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park regularly see the glow of Kilauea's Halemaumau lava lake. As current events show, the landscape of these islands is modified from moment to moment by volcanic processes. Their mosaic of humid tropical forests and semiarid scrub once showcased the unique biology of their endemic adaptive radiations of birds, plants, and insects and today reveals the ecological devastation wrought by the unregulated introduction of exotic species. Similarly, the native Polynesian culture endures even while hosting one of the world's most culturally diverse societies.

In this context of dynamic geology and an ecology in turmoil, Hawaii, in recent decades, has embarked on one of the world's foremost campaigns to shake off its dependence on fossil fuels. The abundance of wind, geothermal, and distributed solar resources present unique opportunities for renewable energy technologies. Indeed, the NOAA Atmospheric Observatory on Mauna Loa played a crucial role in the discovery of global climate change. Our destinations on Maui, Oahu, and the "Big Island" of Hawaii serve as an accessible microcosm of Hawaii's distinctive geology, ecology, culture, and technological innovations.

Haleakala Valley, Maui

Students spend fourteen days in Hawaii, hiking, snorkeling, and visiting sites of interest expected to include:


Travel is from January 8 - 21. We arrive at the Kahului Airport (Maui) and depart from the Honolulu International Airport. Transportation is by rental vehicle and inter-island flight. Lodging is a combination of tent camping in improved campsites and hostels. Most meals are provided.

The "hill of refuge" at Puuhonua o Honaunau

This program is open to all highly academically motivated University of Maryland undergraduates who are seeking a life-changing experience in a unique learning environment, however space is very limited, so we expect applications to be competitive. Students must have a strong interest in biological, physical, or environmental sciences.

Students will enroll either in:

Students meet for four classes on campus, covering major aspects of Hawaiian geology, ecology, culture, and energy technology; and to handle organizational issues. Course grade will be determined based on a pre-trip exam, presentation during trip, post-trip paper, and participation in all travel-study activities. Meeting dates are: The venue is TBD.

Link to course syllabus.

Bullethead parrotfish at Two Step snorkeling site


The program fee of $2350.00 includes tuition, lodging, most meals, admission fees, and transportation on and between the islands. Students are responsible for personal expenses, some meals, and their own airfare. Organizers will suggest a group flight itinerary that each student is responsible for purchasing directly from a travel agent. Although flight costs are not guaranteed and will vary, we estimate round-trip airfare for this program from the Washington, DC area to Hilo will be approximately $1200. Once admitted, you should expect to purchase the flight for the program by Christmas.

Students investigating financial aid are referred to the National Scholarship Office, and the Scholars Co-Curricular Scholarship.

Green turtle basks on black sand at Punaluu

Applications will not be processed or reviewed by the faculty director until they are complete.

Please turn in all application materials simultaneously to:

Diamond Head (Oh No! Don't think of the ear-worm!)

For program and course information, please contact Dr. John Merck at