Her goal is a career in oceanography, so Georgianna (Georgie) Zelenak thought she could use some study time in a setting other than the foothills of Colorado. That’s how she ended up in 2010 on Hawaii’s Big Island, taking three courses in six weeks in Hilo’s Marine Science Summer Program at the University of Hawaii. The deck of a boat was her classroom, and her marine biology laboratory required a snorkel.

Georgie also took Hawaiian, Ohana, described in the course catalog as ‘The culture of the Hawaiian people as expressed in the home and family, both ancient and modern aspects covered; extensive use of Hawaiian terminology.’ She loved her time in the small town of Hilo, immersed in the culture, learning about the strong family bonds there, and hearing of long-practiced traditions, including some ancient healing techniques.

A Harvey Scholar, her first visit was paid for by her scholarship, Hugh and Michelle Harvey built generous provisions for enrichment into thescholarship they created in 2009, but when she returned this past summer, it was at her own expense. As part of a class, the Natural History of Sharks, Rays and Skates, she tagged sharks and monitored their movements in Hilo Bay.

She also studied the health and fitness of Hawaiian green sea turtles. During class one day, her instructors were alerted that a green sea turtle had wandered into a freshwater pond and become stuck. It turned out to be a rare 309-pound female hawksbill turtle, which the researchers and students examined for injuries, measured, tagged and then returned to the open ocean.

Back on campus, Georgie is a member of the school’s mine rescue team, and co-captained the first all-women team to compete in an official Mines Emergency Response Development competition at the Edgar Mine last year. During the simulated mine emergency exercise, teams performed first aid, firefighting and underground construction. Up against teams from Pennsylvania State University, the University of Arizona, the University of British Columbia, and the other Mines all-men team, Georgie’s team placed second.

She says the experience fine-tuned her communication skills in a situation where communication was a lifeline. She also says she has learned to face her fears head-on. “When I joined the team, I had an intense fear of confined space,” she admits. More than anything, though, she says mine rescue has taught her the importance of teamwork and trust, something that is reinforced routinely in her life as a student, a researcher, and in the close associations she’s formed with other students in the Harvey Scholars Program.

About Georgie

Hometown: Fort Collins, Colo.
Favorite class: Science and Culture
Stress buster: Baking tasty things for everyone I know.
Best study idea: Have an amazing study group to work with! My group and I create Jeopardy games for each other before major exams.
Dream job: Applying geophysics to help locate trapped miners after an incident (or wrestling sharks).