2018 St. Johns River Experience

Students paddling

The St. Johns River Experience is a unique undergraduate course that explores the history and ecology of the St. Johns River. The course combines classroom lectures, lab work and field experiences to create a transformational experience that students will remember for a lifetime.

Guest Speakers

Guest speakers are an important component of the St. Johns River Experience, providing valuable expertise from a wide range of disciplines and professions. In addition to providing information related to the St. Johns River, guest speakers also share personal stories and provide students with valuable career advice.

Many of the meetings also feature speakers, guest speakers included:

  • Dr. Quinton White, Jacksonville University Marine Science Research Institute
  • Anita Nash and Kevin Coyne, Florida Department of Environmental Protection
  • Dr. Radha Pyati, St. Johns River Report
  • Dr. Keith Ashley, UNF Archaeology Lab
  • Dr. Robert Knight, Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute
  • Karen Tobi, Florida Master Naturalist

Water Quality Analysis

Understanding water quality is a key outcome of the St. Johns River Experience, even for the non-science majors. During the course, students collected water samples from numerous locations along the St. Johns River including springs and tributaries. The samples were analyzed by the students for dissolved oxygen, salinity, fecal coliform, nitrates and other parameters.

Students conducting research
Students conducting water quality analysis in the laboratory.

Community Field Trips

After learning about topics in class, the group embarked on a number of day trips to various sites in Duval County. These field trips are important for reinforcing concepts learned in the class, as well as experiencing the St. Johns River first hand.

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

The first field trip of the course was to the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, a National Park located along the St. Johns River. During the trip students met with park staff and learned about how indigenous people and early-Europeans utilized the St. Johns River.

Students listening to a park ranger
Students listening to a park ranger at the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in Jacksonville, Florida.

JEA Wastewater Treatment Facility

Students had the opportunity to visit one of JEA’s waste water treatment facilities and learn how the utility treats sewage before being released back into the St. Johns River.

Students on a tour
Students touring a JEA waster water treatment facility.


Student holding breath
A student holding her breath during the tour.

Paddle on Pottsburg Creek

Working with Up the Creek Xpeditions, students were able to paddle Pottsburg Creek and visit Exchange Island on the St. Johns River. Volunteers from the St. Johns Riverkeeper met the students on the island to discuss advocacy and volunteer opportunities.

Students paddling canoes
Students racing canoes toward Exchange Island in Jacksonville, Florida.
The St. Johns Riverkeeper boat
St. Johns Riverkeeper in the Kingfisher boat.
Group photo
Students from the class and volunteers from the St. Johns Riverkeeper enjoyed lunch on Exchange Island.

Spring Break Field Experience

The St. Johns River is too expansive for just a day trip, so the students spend an entire week exploring the watershed during spring break. The trip is truly the highlight of the course and provides a transformational experience for all those involved.

During the trip, students stay at Hontoon Island State Park in central Florida. From there, students set out on a number of trips that include paddling, swimming, hiking and guest speakers. The students also continue collecting water samples throughout the trip.

One of the favorite activities for students is a service project on Lake Jesup with the Seminole Education, Restoration and Volunteer (SERV) Program. The initiative is supported by Seminole County and works to actively restore and educate people on how to protect the waterways and natural areas. During the event, students planted nearly 1,200 beneficial plants that will help reduce nutrients in Lake Jesup. Check out this great video of the event on Facebook!

Other activities during spring break include:

  • Hiked Black Bear Wilderness Area
  • Hiked Hontoon Island State Park
  • Explored the St. Johns River by boat and learned about birds with Florida
  • Paddled Rock Springs Run
  • Swam at Kelly Park, home Rock Springs
  • Enjoyed pancakes at the famous DeLeon Springs Pancake House
  • Paddled at Silver Springs with Dr. Robert Knight from the Florida Springs Institute
Students with binoculars
Students observing wildlife at Black Bear Wilderness Area in Sanford, Florida.
Students volunteering
Student planting a beneficial plant along the banks of the St. Johns River.
Students volunteering
Student planting a beneficial plant along the banks of the St. Johns River.
Students volunteering
Students and scientists from Seminole County planting beneficial plants along the banks of the St. Johns River.
Students volunteering
Student planting a beneficial plant along the banks of the St. Johns River.
Group photo
Students walking along the banks of the Econlockhatchee River .
Group photo
Students and staff from Seminole County posing for a group photo along the banks of the St. Johns River.

St. Johns River Student Forum

Students hosted a public forum at the end of the semester and each student gave a presentation on a topic related to restoration. The presentations incorporated information gained through the course, as well as independent research conducted by the students. The presentations were also interdisciplinary, reflecting the range majors included in the course.

Thank You!

We would like to extend a special thank you to everyone who helped make this trip possible. This course is supported by the Office of Undergraduate Studies, as well as the Cummer Family Foundation and David Strickland. We would also like to thank all of the speakers who shared their knowledge and passion with the students.

Lastly, we would like to thank each of the students who participated in the 2017 St. Johns River Experience.

  • Korrin Brickman – Health Science
  • Brandie Brooks – Coastal Biology
  • McKenzie Edwards – Health Science
  • Hannah Ernstsen – Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Caitlin Gilbert – Coastal Biology
  • Haley Keener – Coastal and Marine Biology
  • Hannah Haselden – Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Victoria Marcotte – Coastal Environmental Science
  • Jeremi Todaro – Coastal Environmental Science
  • Katie Vearil – Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Chris Williams – Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Tyler Williamson – Interdisciplinary Studies

Group photo

Group photo

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