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Boise State Students Went to Great Depths to Learn

Boise State students went to great depths to learn.  Literally.

Shawn Simonson, School of Allied Health Sciences Department of Kinesiology associate professor, and Mary Branchflower, Dive Magic PADI Course Director, led 10 graduate students this fall on an adventure to study how the human body adapts and performs in the hyperbaric, or increased pressure, underwater world.


Hyperbaric Physiology was a multidisciplinary course that expanded the students’ understanding of human anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, physics, and biology.  As one student explained, “This class will make you work hard, push your limits and make you try things you’ve never thought of doing before but it will be so rewarding in the end.  I never thought that I would be able to apply doing a handstand and taking blood pressures simultaneously to hyperbaric physiology but it all made sense.  The class exercises seem silly, like sticking your face in water, but they all connect.  And when it finally clicks: you will feel like a rock star!”

Students also explored the physics of the underwater environment: marine flora and fauna adaptations , and the human experience . During the course, students earned their open water scuba certification from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) at Dive Magic in Boise, Idaho

Group picture on the boat

The course culminated in a dive and service trip to the Exuma Islands and Marine Park in the Bahamas from Dec. 26, 2014 to Jan. 2, 2015.  Course concepts were further demonstrated and explored and conservation activities were undertaken with Blackbeard Cruises, a company that specializes in educational diving and snorkeling cruises.  The class lived on board a 65-foot sailboat, served as part of the crew, and completed necessary chores.  They also went scuba diving, swimming, hiking, snorkeling and fishing. “Fifteen weeks in the classroom seems like a lot to learn about hyperbaric physiology but a week in the Bahamas makes it all worth it,” said one student.  “The trip put together all we learned in the classroom and in the dive shop and made all the learning worth it.  It’s a great tool for applying what we learned and things make more sense when you get a chance to truly experience what you learned.”

The Boise State International Learning Opportunities office and Blackbeard Cruises did outstanding work helping put the trip together and managing the details. One student explained how the experience was much more than a class and a trip to the Bahamas. “I have found a thirst to learn more about the human body, what it can do, and how it can be manipulated by the discoveries of modern science.  I have developed a desire to push past insecurities and doubts to seize opportunities to try new, scary, challenging things.  It has fostered a growing sense of appreciation, respect, and gratitude for the people, animals, plants, and landscapes with which I have the privilege of sharing this planet.  It has sparked a burning spirit of adventure and an increasing curiosity to see the world.  Overall, I have discovered a different me over the last several months.”

Diving with sargent majors

Simonson and Branchflower intend to continue to offer the course to graduate students during the fall semesters of even years, and the students that have taken the course highly encourage other students to take it as well. “The one thing I would want people to know about this class is: go.  Don’t worry about monetary elements when deciding whether to take this class or not, everything will fall into place – just go.”

Boise State University Foundation funds can help future students experience this awesome opportunity. To find out how you can support the students in this endeavor, contact Jon Larkin, director of development for the College of Health Sciences at 208-426-2124 or