Glacier Bay Year

program overview

As our flagship program, the Glacier Bay Year brings six students into an immersive educational experience in the heart of Southeast Alaska. Students reap the benefits of both campuses: the Good River Campus in the tiny community of Gustavus (the gateway community to Glacier Bay National Park), and Inian Islands Campus on a remote outer coast archipelago. Geared towards young adults ages 18-23, this gap year program provides an enriching opportunity for students to learn live, learn, work, and play amid one of the richest swaths of intact wildland on earth. Students are recruited from Alaska and from around the United States; special care is taken to ensure a diverse cohort along multiple demographic axes.

Please check back in late summer 2021 for information regarding the 2022 Glacier Bay Year. Inquiries can be directed to Co-Executive Director Laura Marcus (


The Glacier Bay Year invites students to participate in a rigorous intellectual program that takes full advantage of the richness of Southeast Alaska. We use this dynamic place as a lens through which students can consider both timeless human questions and immediate global crises. Learning takes place inside and outside the classroom and across disciplinary boundaries: from ecology to art to anthropology and beyond. Academic investigations are designed to help students build connections between one another, between themselves and the natural world, and between the cohort and the community. Studies are integrated with the experiential parts of the program, allowing space to question, investigate, and reflect on life outside the classroom. Students may apply to the University of Alaska for up to a year’s worth of college credit at no additional cost. Tidelines does not independently award academic credits or credentials.


The labor pillar integrates students into a lifeway common in Gustavus but radically different than that of most modern environments. This bush Alaska town is a do-it-yourself kind of community; many people build their own homes, chop their own firewood, and grow, hunt, fish, gather, and preserve their own food. Our students will do the same, partaking in a subsistence lifestyle that teaches competence in manual skills, the habits of mind that accompany this competence, and a profound sense of connection to the natural world. Over the course of a week, students will spend 20-25 hours in physical labor and service work, including cooking meals, chopping firewood, tending the garden, preserving the harvest, building and maintaining infrastructure, and (of course) washing dishes. Because subsistence activities must follow natural rhythms, program schedules may be tweaked to accommodate salmon runs, favorable weather, and the tidal cycle. All students will have the opportunity to go on fishing excursions taking advantage of Alaska’s rich ocean bounty, including salmon, halibut, and rockfish.

The labor pillar plays a crucial role in the our expansive vision of a liberal arts education. Our primary goal is not to train the next cadre of modern-day homesteaders. Rather it serves to broaden our students’ understanding of different ways of life; to invest them with the responsibility to care for their own community; to cultivate the virtues and skills that manual labor can instill; and to foster a sense of interdependence within both human and natural ecosystems.


Self-governance bestows upon students the authority to create and govern their own political community. Within the context of the program, students will come up against many of the same questions that societies encounter on a grander scale: how do we humanely and justly exercise power over one another? How do we share resources, especially when they are scarce? How do we navigate differences of opinion and experience? How do we balance the needs of the community against the needs of the individual? The other experiential components of the program create the circumstances for all these questions to arise. The academic pillar provides space for students to grapple intellectually with these questions. But it is within the sphere of self-governance that students must make decisions on these central questions of the human condition.

Self-governance also involves shared governance – the sharing of administrative power with the organization’s professional leaders. Students lead the committees (populated by students and staff) that hire faculty, set the curriculum, and admit new students. Students therefore have significant power and agency within the life of the program; the choices they make have real stakes for the organization.

Self-governance is leadership education at its richest and most authentic. When students leave the gap year, they leave with the knowledge, skills, and virtues to lead and serve in their home communities.

wilderness exploration

Glacier Bay Year students experience the best of the wildlands and rural communities of Southeast Alaska, moving back and forth between our Gustavus and Inian Islands campuses. Both locations are tiny human outposts amid a vast wilderness, enmeshed in the largest swath of protected land on earth. The town of Gustavus, population 400, lies at the intersection of Glacier Bay and the Inside Passage, and just east of the world’s tallest coastal mountains. The Inian Islands lie 25 miles to the west, a remote archipelago along Alaska’s rugged outer coast. Both locations offer unparalleled opportunities for outdoor exploration, and expeditions play a role in academics, labor, and self-governance. Regular visits to the region’s several unique ecosystems will constitute a core part of the learning course; optional weekend backpacking or kayaking trips will give students a chance to explore their environs. Students should come prepared for intensive activity in the wilderness – the ability to move over uneven terrain is a must in a land without established trails. Though challenging, these forays reward students with firsthand experience – on land and sea – of Alaska’s majestic wilderness.