UAS freshmen enjoy last day of new student orientation watching whales

The University of Alaska Southeast capped three days of new student orientation Wednesday afternoon with a whale-watching cruise, the sixth annual time it has held the event.

About 150 students, faculty and staff from UAS piled onto two Allen Marine Tours boats for more than three hours on the water after lunch Wednesday.

“We will see whales today, guaranteed,” said Julie Staveland, outreach and orientation coordinator at the university, as the second boat set out from Auke Bay Harbor.

And see whales they did. Within minutes of Staveland’s promise, a humpback whale breached off the port side of the ship.

Whale-watching suited freshman Cristiano Hernandez, a Missouri native who now calls a houseboat in Kake home, just fine. Hernandez is majoring in marine biology, a study he said brought him to UAS to begin with.

“I heard they had the best marine biology program,” Hernandez explained. Fairbanks, he added, would have been too cold for him anyway.

New students at UAS can pay $75 for three days of orientation, at which they receive information about their new school, UAS “swag,” their required reading book for the year and other introductions to student life. The whale watch is included.

Freshman Abby Query, who said she was born and raised in Juneau, said she liked finally being able to spend part of her orientation outside.

“I wish we could have spent more time outside,” the psychology major lamented of her orientation experience. “I like to be outdoors,” she added.

Query described orientation as “a lot of talking about what to expect, and a lot of reiterating that talking.”

While the whale watch was a fresh change of pace for some, it was a familiar experience to Montana Nolan, a sophomore who works as a student housing community advisor at the university.

Nolan said that after going on the whale-watching cruise last summer, when she was a new student at UAS, she decided to go again this year to meet the incoming freshmen.

“Not every day do you get a beautiful day to go whale-watching,” said Nolan.

Indeed, the weather could scarcely have been better for the event. After heavy rains pelted Juneau Tuesday, the sky was virtually cloudless Wednesday.

After emerging from the wheelhouse, where he had been poring over a large area map of whale sightings, as the boat churned back into the harbor, Hernandez gave the afternoon cruise a glowing review.

“I thought it was just awesome,” said Hernandez. “Got to see a bunch of whales.”

Hernandez and other UAS students begin classes Thursday.

As of the start of the week, 2,970 students were registered for classes at the university, according to statistics from UAS Institutional Effectiveness. Of those students, 2,167 were registered through the school’s Juneau campus.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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