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  1. Student attrition is a persistent challenge in the life sciences, particularly among underrepresented minorities, first-generation students, and women. Experiential learning through short-term study abroad opportunities diversifies curricula by immersing students in nontraditional academic environments. However, most experiential learning and study abroad opportunities are primarily available to upper-division undergraduates. Here, we present a qualitative analysis of an experiential learning opportunity offered exclusively to first-year U.S. undergraduate students from underrepresented demographics. We performed ethnographic observations of a 10-day field component in the Galápagos Islands and analyzed self-reported survey results and field journals. Students consistently reported strong cognitive gains in their understanding ofmore »basic evolutionary concepts. Most students also benefited socially, although we observed higher variation in selfreported social gains. Our findings suggest that immersive field courses increase scientific literacy and promote social cohesion among students. We speculate that experiential learning opportunities may improve retention of underrepresented minorities in the life sciences, and we encourage future studies to further examine the short-term and long-term impacts of study abroad on student cognition and retention.« less