Maymester FAQ

Thank you for your interest in the Wrigley Institute’s 2024 Catalina Residential College Maymester at the Wrigley Marine Science Center (WMSC). In this program, we run 6 exciting Maymester classes within a residential college model on Catalina Island. The purpose of a residential college setup is to provide a unique living-learning community for students as they expand their understanding of the environment and sustainability. Students are given a place for self-discovery through diverse experiences, educational support networks, exchanges with peers from different backgrounds, and close relationships with mentors in an interdisciplinary academic environment.

This year’s Catalina Residential College Maymester courses offer students a month-long immersive learning experience, bringing together students from across the academic domains (natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities) to learn from the faculty and each other. The program will include undergraduates, graduate TAs, and faculty members living and learning as one community.

This FAQ will answer many of your questions, and it provides contact information for faculty so you can get more specific information about the course that interests you.

Q: What classes are part of the Wrigley Institute’s Catalina Residential College Maymester? 

A: There are 6 classes in this Maymester. (Note: ARCG 305Lg will no longer be offered for the 2024 Maymester. Students interested in the social sciences and/or humanities are encouraged to consider ENST 486 or ENST 499. Students who are AAUS-certified divers are encouraged to consider ENST 483L.)

BISC 431L: Aquatic Microbiology. Instructed by Dr. John Heidelberg ( and Dr. Eric Webb (

BISC 457L: Methods in Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography. Instructed by Dr. Karla Heidelberg ( and Dr. Noelle Held (

ENST 483L: Coastal Zone Sustainability.  Instructed by Dr. David Ginsburg (

ENST 486: Social Science Research Methods for Environmental Analysis.  Instructed by Dr. Monalisa Chatterjee ( and Dr. Victoria Campbell-Árvai (

ENST 499: Waves of Change: Unearthing Coastal Environmental Histories. Instructed by Dr. Sean Fraga (

Q: What are the classes like and how do they differ?

A: All Maymester classes are part of the spring semester as far as units and tuition are concerned. Classes run May 13-June 10, 2024. Class sizes are small (about 15 students maximum) to provide ample interactions with faculty and individual academic attention.

Generally, required class activities take place Monday-Friday on Catalina Island. However, some instructors may choose to run courses on the weekend, so you are encouraged to connect with your instructor for more information. Students are encouraged to stay on the island during the week; however, the Wrigley Institute runs a daily Monday-Friday boat between Catalina Island and the mainland, and classes and labs are often scheduled around boat times. Classes are generally a mix of classroom/lecture time, lab research, and field work. Most of the classes involve some kind of diving, boating, or hiking activities. Specific activities vary by course, so contact the instructors for more information about specific classes.

Q: Is Maymester registration competitive?

A: To foster a high-quality learning experience and to accommodate capacity limits on the island, each Maymester course is limited to 15-20 students. In years past, some courses have filled up quickly with waitlists. Faculty will have to be selective if interest exceeds available space, but some may be able to admit everyone who applies. We recommend applying early and contacting the faculty member for your desired course to express your interest.

Q: How can I learn more about specific classes?

A: You can contact the faculty member for each course. We will also hold information sessions for some courses. Students who submit our interest form will be notified of upcoming information sessions.

Q: How hard are the classes?

A: The Catalina Island Maymester is not a vacation. Classes are academically rigorous. Because they condense an entire semester’s worth of work into a single month, the pace can be challenging.  One day of instruction is roughly equal to a week’s worth of instruction during a normal semester. In addition, these are upper-division courses, and some are designed specifically for majors in particular subjects.  However, the small class size and close contact with faculty mean that students who want good grades usually earn them.

Q: I just finished my first year. Can I still enroll? 

A: Yes, it is possible to enroll in this Maymester as a rising sophomore. All Maymester faculty spend the full month on the island and are highly accessible to and supportive of our students, so this is a good environment in which to challenge yourself. However, note that all classes in the program are upper-division classes, and most have prerequisites that must be completed before Maymester begins. Please contact the individual professors for details.

Q: What does it cost?

A: Tuition is covered under normal USC spring tuition as long as you don’t go into credit overload (no more than 18 total units INCLUDING the Maymester). There is an additional cost of roughly $1,840 for room and board (21 meals/week) for the 4-week program. However, financial assistance is available from the Wrigley Institute.  Some courses also qualify for SOAR/SURF funds. Please contact individual class professors to discuss financial aid options.

Note: If you are admitted to Maymester and submit the commitment form, a penalty of $500 will be added to your student fee bill for dropping the course. This penalty is charged by the university and cannot be waived by the Wrigley Institute.

Q: What are the housing and food like?

A: Students live in dormitories at the Wrigley Marine Science Center with 2 or 3 students to a room and 2 dorm rooms sharing each bathroom. The dining hall serves three meals each day, and the food is typically better than normal cafeteria food. Note that, due to WMSC’s remote location and limited staff and equipment, we are limited in the number and type of dietary restrictions we can accommodateRead the full WMSC Dietary Policy >>

Q: Can I leave the island?

A: While students are encouraged to stay on the island Monday-Friday, USC runs daily Monday-Friday boats to and from WMSC, and we schedule classes and labs around the boat schedule. Students are welcome to return to L.A. over the weekends, as long as this does not conflict with their class schedule. However, most students choose to stay on the island and take advantage of recreational activities like snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, trips to Avalon, etc.

Q: What if I have a medical emergency while staying on the island?

A: Baywatch paramedics are based in the town of Two Harbors, and they can reach the lab in just a few minutes. We also have a first-aid team on site at the Catalina Hyberbaric Chamber. For minor issues requiring a doctor’s attention, Catalina Island Medical Center is roughly 30 minutes away by boat in Avalon. Additionally, our campus has a helipad for medical evacuations to the mainland, which usually take about 30 minutes. Note that there is no pharmacy nearby, so students should plan to pack a full month’s supply of all necessary medicines.

Q: What about COVID and other campus protocols?

A: WMSC is a satellite campus of USC. As such, we have a fully approved COVID restart plan that largely mirrors the one used on the University Park Campus, with some small differences to account for our remote location and the fact that many of our staff live in close proximity on the island. Because WMSC is a USC facility, the full USC Student Code of Conduct, including alcohol and drug policies, also applies and will be enforced.