UNCG’s Julie Hodgin is not exactly on top of the world. But she’s close.

This summer she is working at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, in the marine mammal stranding and husbandry departments. She helps rehabilitate sick, starving or stranded marine life back to health in order to release them back into the wild, she explains. She is working with animals ranging  from sea lions, sea otters, seals, and even walruses.

The undergraduate has dedicated her life to the conservation of these mammals, she says. Previously, she worked at the North Carolina Zoo (see picture). And her work goes back much further.

“As an active volunteer for Polar Bears International, most of my work has been focused on polar bears. Polar bears are a poster-species for climate change, simply because their ice habitat degradation is active and obvious, but the truth is that all species will be affected by a changing climate,” she explains. “Polar bears need sea ice in order to hunt ringed seals that linger beneath the surface. With the changing climate, the sea ice is forming later and later every Autumn, and melting earlier and earlier every spring.” She has observed this – and seen starving bears waiting for sea ice – firsthand in past years.

“The truth is, if we lose a keystone species like the polar bear, it will affect the ecosystem of the entire arctic circle, with a domino effect of changes. Everyone can help to not only save the polar bear, but to make the Earth a healthier place to live by reducing their carbon emissions. By turning out your lights, unplugging appliances when they’re not in use, and carpooling, or even driving the speed limit will help reduce your carbon footprint.”

Alaska is just the start of her summer adventures in conservation. A few days after leaving Alaska, she will join UNCG classmates in Costa Rica to do sea turtle research in Tortuguero. That class trip is led by Ann Somers, who teaches the course Biology and Conservation of Sea Turtles at UNCG. “This course teaches students all about sea turtle biology, and how to conserve these species for future generations,” Julie says. “Throughout this course, we have been able to volunteer at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital, which has given us invaluable hands-on experience with these animals.”

UNCG is known for undergraduate research and for study-abroad experiences. Julie is having adventures that are life-changing and can galvanize a career. Follow her ecological journeys at her blog, jules-and-gems.blogspot.com.

Compiled by Mike Harris
Photograph from 2014 provided by Julie Hodgin.