Professor Behrens takes teaching to new depths


Genevieve Huard


After administering, grading and submitting finals for his oceanography classes on the last day of spring quarter, professor David Behrens went straight from Pierce College to the airport and caught a plane to Indonesia.

Behrens has studied and taught about ocean life all over the world. He has also written and published many books, magazine and web articles on coral reef ecology. He has taught from Pierce College to Malaysia.

This summer, Behrens was invited to teach a summer workshop onboard the boat, the KLM Aurua, in Indonesia. Behrens called this 126-foot sailboat “our floating classroom.”

Teaching and learning onboard a boat provides students with many opportunities that they would not normally have in a classroom. Behrens said that watching students learn outside of the classroom was the most amazing part of teaching abroad.

“You just can’t achieve, with videos and PowerPoints, what the personal experience will attain,” Behrens said. “Watching them (students) discover on their own, touch, observe, report back what they have seen. Those are lessons they will never forget.”

But with these amazing experiences is a completely different type of learning environment. Learning and teaching onboard a boat provides its own set of challenges.

“The biggest lesson from this summers workshops was the problem of teaching onboard a boat. The confinement and problems with weather really caused problems,” Behrens said. “When the weather was bad, folks got sick, teaching was tough.”

Even though Behrens originally attended school to study marine biology at San Francisco State University, he has switched careers three times.

From working with nuclear forensics (studying weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, Iran and North Korea) to working as a research and development manager studying new and advanced renewable energy generation and storage, Behrens has done it all.

Now, Behrens is a specialist in nudibranchs, small marine animals that are in the same class as snails and slugs. He has written several books on these including Nudibranch Behavior, Pacific Coast Nudibranchs, and many others.

In fact, Behrens has discovered and named many new species of nudibranchs including chromodoris michaeli, which is named after his son, Michael. That son has a doctorate in marine biology and is a professor at Pacific Lutheran University.

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Professor Behrens takes teaching to new depths

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