Seth Bartusek

Seth’s Journey


Seth Bartusek


Biology and Environmental Studies


Chicago, Illinois

I found Grinnell late in the admission season my senior year, and immediately fell in love with the school.

Although I was originally drawn in by the academics, I stayed for the welcoming community that I could feel simply from touring the school.

As I prepare to graduate, I am really going to miss living around all my friends and forming relationships with my professors over lab and fieldwork.


I have always been very interested in the outdoors, and am a lifelong lover of nature. While I don't always have my camera ready to take pictures of the animals I see, I do love getting pictures of the sunset. Iowa has some of the most striking sunsets I've ever seen, and I often can't resist getting a shot of them.


Farm House

At the end of my first year, my friend Tommy and I applied for a project house with Grinnell. Project houses are college-owned housing that is set aside for groups that share a common interest. Ours was food sustainability in Iowa; with Iowa being the Ag-hub it is, we were disappointed that there weren't opportunities to get involved and make the system less destructive to the land.

With Farm House, we planted our own garden. Our first year, we started in the fall and only grew leafy greens, but it's much bigger now! We also advocated for environmental reform, hosted community events, ate family dinners out on the lawn, and even built an igloo in the winter!

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Semester Abroad in New Zealand

 I am really interested in marine science, but that's hard to study at Grinnell, so I spent the Fall 2019 semester abroad at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. I took classes at the Department of Marine Science, lived in a flat with other international students, and enjoyed making new friends and exploring a new place.

Seth's Semester Abroad photo 1

I am an avid backpacker, and I spent almost all the free time I got off from school backpacking in the mountains with friends! This is a view over lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps from the summit of Roy's Peak.

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On my first weekend in NZ, a few friends and I decided to get out of town and explore a bit.

We rented a car and drove an hour south to a beautiful region just south of Dunedin called the Catlins. This is a shot of my friend Mark eating breakfast over a deserted bay one cloudy morning.

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A few friends and I took advantage of a four-day weekend to plan a backpacking trip in the heart of the Southern Alps, along a route called the Greenstone-Caples trek.

It pays to get off the beaten path, and all we saw for that weekend were sheep and beautiful snow-capped mountain peaks.

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Kaikoura is a town about four hours north of our Uni. It is famous for its marine life, as big whales come right into shore. In particular, they are known for sperm whales, which the marine science department at my university does a lot of research on.

I wasn't going to miss a chance to see a sperm whale, and I was absolutely thrilled to see one, but this sighting of an orca in front of the mountains is one of the most amazing animal interactions I've ever had.

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These are my friends Addie, Madison, and Tristan standing at the top of Gertrude Saddle on a three-day backpacking trek through Fiordland National Park in Eastern New Zealand.

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This is another shot from our trip through Fiordland National Park en route to Milford Sound. This was a beautifully green moss forest deep in the valley. Waterfalls on each side keep the moss dry and bright green!

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A group shot from a big group hike up Copland Track to a hut with hot springs. This was the largest group we went hiking with and consists of most of my closest friends from abroad.

While there weren't any Grinnell students with me, I met friends from all over, including Washington, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire, California, and England. Later this day, we went swimming in the icy blue glacial-fed river behind us. It was great way to wake yourself up a bit!

Research Experiences

While at Otago Marine Science in New Zealand, I wanted to get lab experience. Through a professor's guidance, I reached out to a Ph.D. student working on invasive kelp along the coast, and was able to help out for three weeks at the end of my semester.

The basic study involved removing invasive kelp to see how native kelp recolonized the area, and to evaluate which native species were most at risk. We worked off the department's 70' research vessel, the Polaris II, and put about 8-10 SCUBA divers and snorkelers in the water to rip invasive kelp up off the bottom.

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This is a shot of us hauling some kelp out of the water. We would average about 1.5 tons of kelp per day.

Virtual Lab Work

My experience in New Zealand made me want to get further involved with biology research, so I kept searching for opportunities when I got back to the States. I ended up connecting with the Gittman Lab for Coastal Ecology at East Carolina University, and worked for them as a virtual research technician in summer 2020. The normal systems had to be changed a bit to accommodate remote work, but I really enjoyed working in the lab. I loved the work they were doing on nursery habitats for juvenile fish so much that I ultimately turned my summer research into an independent project during the academic year.

In and out of Grinnell, COVID changed all of my research experiences. The embedded TikTok is from a Fungal Biology lab last fall. Despite not being in the same location, we wanted to do an experiment and collect data as a class, so we designed a home lab experimenting on store-bought celery. We ended up getting some really cool preliminary results, and definitely changed my professor's mind about what could be done outside the "lab" environment!

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Grinnell Baseball

When I'm not in the classroom or out in nature, I'm also a student-athlete and a member of the Grinnell College baseball team. I've been playing for four years, and being a part of my team has been one of my fondest memories from Grinnell. I love the springtime vibe we get at our field, with spectators sitting on the grassy hills watching the game and the warm sun. Being a part of a team is so great because you automatically have a support group of friends that become family, and seriously in season I spend more time with the team than I do with my roommate!

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The many faces of Grinnell baseball

Winter Life

Spending the school year in Grinnell, you get pretty well acquainted with the Iowa winter. It is cold, but offers a bunch of chances to play different winter sports, so you can still get outside.


Future Plans

As I prepare to leave Grinnell, I am really going to miss the community here and all the friends I've made. It's been wonderful to be around such smart and engaging people and I've learned a ton from them; Grinnell's close-knit community is truly unique and has always kept things interesting for me.

I will also miss playing baseball for the College: it was amazing getting to play the sport I love every day and being part of a group bigger than myself. After graduation, I am headed to Cordova, Alaska, where I have a position with the Forest Service working on a habitat restoration and conservation project on the Copper River Delta.

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