AIU Blog

The AIU blog shares ideas, information and tips aimed at helping you get ahead personally and professionally, with topics ranging from online learning success to career development.

AIU Houston’s Alaska Study Tour

Guest Article by Christina Bowers

Cruising past glaciers and watching whales from the deck of a cruise ship are just two of the many highlights of the AIU Houston Alaska Study Tour.

Certainly not your average classroom, five AIU Houston students and alumni and Director of the Houston Campus e-Studies Martha Culbreth had the privilege of spending June 22-29 on an Alaskan Study Tour cruising through the Inside Passage with Celebrity Cruises. The group rounded out their Study Tour by taking Amtrak for a scenic trip through the Cascades from Vancouver to Seattle with a tour of the Olympic National Park and a lavender farm on June 30th.

This is the fifth year for this unique study tour, and it always provides students with the opportunity to get credit, if they register for a summer class incorporating the cruise. For this particular year, no students opted for credit; however, as Ms. Culbreth says, “EVERYTHING we do has some educational value.”

Those who go on the study tour have the opportunity to attend presentations, participate in workshops, work on a newsletter about their trip, create a calendar with photos from the cruise, keep journals and participate in a photo show. The students also attend lectures presented by the onboard naturalist.

Last year, Naturalist Brent Nixon met with the AIU Study Tour participants to share information and answer their questions. This year, AIU students benefited from an impromptu meeting with the naturalist at the stern of the ship during an early morning approach into Juneau. Students also learned about history, culture, climate, flora, wildlife and marine life on excursions taken throughout the cruise.

The study tour is open to all students and alumni, and presentations and workshops based on photography are provided for AIU attendees. This year, free-lance photographer and alumnus Jennifer Kahanek conducted a workshop on creating a panoramic image. Students will present some of their work in a photography show in September. Students and alumni also met with members of the cruise’s photography department and learned the requirements of getting a job with cruise ships as a photographer.

One year, the AIU Houston group spent time with a professional photographer in Juno, who discussed the business end of photography and took the students and alumni on a photo-shoot in a Juneau Rain Forest. On another trip, a retired commercial photographer shared his knowledge and provided critiques.

Be it networking with strangers in the cruise ship’s dining room or simply putting students in a new environment, Ms. Culbreth says, “I like to give the students more experiences with different things – whether they know it or not.”

Alaska enthusiast Martha Culbreth has been this study tour’s leader for the five years of its existence. “I started doing study tours just outside of Houston (to Austin, for example), and they were so jam-packed with activities, including tours of art museums, a design firm, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Museum, and an evening viewing of the flight of one of the nation’s largest bat colonies. One student made the comment, ‘I never knew learning could be so much fun.’ I realized the value of taking the students outside of the four walls of a classroom and felt that I had to continue with the Study Tours.”

Ms. Culbreth enjoys the opportunity to watch students grow. As she says, “Every year, there’s something new. There’s always someone who has never been out of Texas, or even Houston, or has never even been on a plane. I found that cruising is a relatively inexpensive way for students to visit many places and experience different cultures and cuisine. Students and alumni truly experience the trip of a lifetime when traveling to Alaska!”

Planning for the 2013 Study Tour is currently underway. Students interested in participating in the Alaskan Study Tour or the new Mediterranean Study Tour should contact Martha Culbreth at