Zach Brown and Laura Marcus first met over nachos and beers at a campus dive bar near Stanford University. A mutual friend introduced the two because they both ran experiential education nonprofits that focused on teaching civic and environmental leadership. 

Within a few years of that first meeting, both nonprofits purchased campuses in southeast Alaska and Brown and Marcus married. When the couple partnered to run joint educational programs, they found their combined skills and interests created a transformational experience for students. “There was a really good synergy between Laura’s humanities background and my science background and our visions for education,” Brown says. “I like to work with the student groups and give them tools to tackle the climate crisis. It’s kind of the short game,” he added. “Laura is more comfortable and effective in the long game of building citizen leaders and helping bring together and repair the social fabric of the country.”

When the pandemic arrived and cleared both of their schedules, Brown and Marcus decided to spend their time merging operations. 

On January 1, 2021, the Tidelines Institute was born. Four days later, the institute’s first cohort of students arrived. Gap year students aged 18-23 spend seven months studying, harvesting their own food, and sharing administrative duties like setting curriculum and hiring faculty. “We believe students should be empowered to co-create the educational experience that is going to be the most meaningful for them,” Marcus says.

Students spend part of the gap year at an off-the-grid campus in the Inian Islands and part of the year at a campus in Gustavus on the edge of Glacier Bay.

In addition to the gap year cohort, Tidelines Institute also offers community workshops aimed at adults and short courses in partnership with other educational institutions.


Alexander Deedy formerly worked as the assistant editor and digital content manager for Alaska magazine.

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