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Quest students abandon classroom for tents in Hawaii

Volcano course requires research beside active crater



There are school field trips, and then there are Quest University field trips.

A group of five students in a volcanology class took their studies to Hawaii for 11 days between Jan. 19 and 30.

The students and Prof. Steve Quane linked up with scientists in Hawaii connected to the United States Geological Survey Group to help with volcano research.

"We were collecting different rocks from the different layers, the different eruption materials," said Toby Freyer, one of the students who went on the Hawaii learning trip.

Lucas Nguyen, one of the other Quest students on the trip, said the aim of the digging was to find layers associated with specific volcanic episodes. The group dug down three metres to collect materials from a volcanic eruption in 1959.

"It has all been videotaped," said Nguyen. "We can link back these episodes to what they saw and we can still watch the videos from the. They have quite good footage."

He said the event was a fountain eruption that created a lava lake. The group investigated the large site.

"It is only recently fully crystallized down to the core - that's two years ago," said Nguyen. "And there's still hot vents that come up to the surface. You can your hand over it and there's steam coming out."

The research on Hawaii's big island took them from sea level all the way up to 3,000 metres (10,000 feet).

Quane said he really likes studying volcanoes on Hawaii because it has active volcanoes as well as examples of places where volcanic activity is no longer happening.

The course for the five students started off with a week of experiments at UBC and Quane said that was followed by a few days of preparation for the trip to Hawaii.

Nguyen said had travelled to Hawaii with his family for vacation but being there as part of his studies gave him a new appreciation for the place on an intellection level.

"Actually understanding the history of the island from both what we were doing geologically, but also how that relates to how the culture and structure of the island was formed was very interesting," said Nguyen, who lived in Calgary before moving to Quest.

Added Freyer, a resident of Evergreen, Colorado: "And having that moment of when you first see it and know that you are going to figure out exactly what's going (was incredible)."

Said Quane: "We learned about the difficulties of experiments."

Some of the machines the students worked with didn't quite meet expectations, but said Quane, the frustrations with technology proved just as valuable as if everything went perfectly.

There was a pre-requisite trip for the students - a trip to Mount Meagher earlier as a way of preparing for the Hawaii trip.

The group opted to camp at a site about one kilometre from the summit crater in Hawaii. The money they saved in accommodation was put toward a 45-minute helicopter ride so the group could see what they had studied from the air above.

It was a school trip but the group found a little time to relax. They stopped in at a hot springs area and the very last day of the trip they spent relaxing at the beach enjoying some body surfing.

David Helfand, the Quest University president, said the tutors get to "own" their students for three and a half weeks. The school uses a block system where the students immerse themselves in only one subject at a time for a short period of time. Through the small class sizes and the intensive study Helfand said the students come together as a team to "experience" the course.

He said the block system allows the students to do things like a Hawaii trip or go into the backcountry to study avalanches. One of the next big trips planned for Quest students is an international development trip to Belize, said Helfand. Thirteen people will spend a month in Belize.

"It makes the education so much more part of the real world as opposed to distinct from the real world," he said.