Program Spotlight

The University of Georgia Marine Institute on Sapelo Island (UGAMI)

The University of Georgia Marine Institute on Sapelo Island (UGAMI) is a world-renowned field destination that supports research and education in coastal ecosystems. Located within the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve (SINERR), UGAMI is a living laboratory that offers access to protected barrier island habitats, including salt marshes, beaches, maritime forests, tidal creeks, estuaries, and, of course, the ocean. It also serves as the home base for the Georgia Coastal Ecosystems Long-Term Ecological Research Project (GCE).

The Office of University Experiential Learning recently spoke with Damon Gannon, Assistant Director for Academics at UGAMI. As someone who lives and breathes the Sapelo experience, he has unique insight on the program.

“Taking classes at a field station like UGAMI is a life-changing experience for many undergraduate students.  It is a rich experience, unlike anything that you would find on a large university campus.  The UGAMI Experience is characterized by:

  • Immersion – Complete immersion in field-based academic studies.
  • Mentorship – Close mentorship by faculty who are experts in their fields of study.
  • Engagement – Being part of a supportive community of scholars.

At UGAMI, students are literally immersed in marine studies.  Unlike on the Athens campus, students at UGAMI spend most of their time in the marine environment and they conduct actual research projects rather than just reading about them in a textbook.  It is experiential learning at its best.”

Hawk Jones, a fourth year student majoring in biology and ecology thinks back on his time at UGAMI fondly. “I used to spend part of every summer for four years volunteering as part of the Caretta Seaturtle Project on Wassaw Island. So when I was out on the beach one night during UGAMI’s Coastal Summer Semester and spotted a mother loggerhead coming back down from just finishing her nest and laying mere minutes before I arrived it was a magical experience. Must have watched her make her way back down for over an hour, low tide on a full moon.”

Gannon continues, “Students and faculty at UGAMI spend a lot of time together, in and out of class.  For example, they eat meals together and socialize outside of class.  This means that they get to know one another quite well, which often means that students get a better sense of what a marine scientist’s job entails and enables professors to serve as better mentors. Working and living at the Marine Institute also allows undergraduates to interact with graduate students, technicians, and faculty who come to UGAMI from all over the globe to conduct research. These relationships broaden a student’s perspective and create a network of professional contacts that can help with future career development.  Living and working in a close-knit, supportive community of scholars who come from diverse backgrounds but who have a common interest in marine studies can ignite students’ career passions.”


In 2019, three field studies will be offered at UGAMI: the Marine Biology Spring Semester, the Geography of the Georgia Coast Maymester, and the Coastal Summer Semester. To learn more about these programs, visit the UGAMI website.

UGA undergraduate students participating in these field studies are eligible to apply for an experiential learning scholarship of up to $2500. For more information and to apply, see our Resources  page.

The UGAMI field studies have been approved to satisfy the experiential learning requirement for students with majors in the following colleges/schools: College of Education, College of Environment and Design, College of Family and Consumer Sciences, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, School of Public and International Affairs, and the Terry College of Business. To learn more about UGA’s experiential learning initiative, visit