One grad’s recent daring journey into a volcano turned into a viral video that captivated the world. Assistant Director of Communications Jamie Lewis (AB ’12, AB ’12) spoke with Sam Cossman (BBA ’03) about the video, his time at UGA and his plans for the future.
You’ve mentioned that UGA is the place that inspired and fostered your adventurous spirit. Can you talk about this?
While at UGA, I had the pleasure of meeting people from all around the world. Combined with a newfound sense of freedom and self-discovery, I finally had the opportunity to take a few international trips. These journeys were incredibly empowering and transformational in that they helped shape my worldview and gave me perspective on how incredibly lucky I was in many regards of my life. This was also partially what inspired my developing sense of social responsibility.
Where did you get the idea to venture into a volcano?
After co-founding a charity and building a school in Haiti, I returned to San Francisco with a renewed sense of purpose and desire to pursue my passion for adventure. I started a tech company called Qwake, a Kickstarter for new and unusual experiences. It was a tool to help others pursue their own passions and earn a living doing what they loved most. The volcano experience was born out of this. I heard from a friend that a rarely seen magical volcanic wonderland existed deep in the South Pacific, but was unsure if it was real. After much research, I discovered that this seemingly mythical place did indeed exist. However, due to the complexity and cost of a potential expedition, I had to abandon the project after six months. It wasn’t until more than a year later that the opportunity finally materialized. There are only five known lava lakes in the world; Marum (the one we visited) is by far the most active and the rarest.
Your video’s been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube and your story was featured in the Huffington Post, ABC News,Buzzfeed and more. Were you surprised by the video’s virality, and what opportunities has its popularity created for you?
I had zero formal training in shooting or editing film. However, I was so excited by the experience that I spent the flight home editing a video to share with family and friends. Much to my surprise, I awoke the following morning to millions of views, thousands of comments and dozens of publications contacting me. I was incredibly surprised and humbled by the global response.
Discovery and exploration have long been a part of my DNA, and I think that partially originated from my upbringing in Georgia where much of my childhood was spent exploring the outdoors. As an adult, my passion for adventure has become a part of who I am. I do it because it makes me feel alive. Being in extreme and wild places, like inside of a volcano, reminds me of my mortality and that I am at the mercy of forces much greater than myself. Most importantly, my adventures serve as existential wake-up calls to live with intention, push boundaries and chase my dreams.
The experience has opened a number of doors, professionally speaking, and reminded me that it’s OK to take an occasional literal and figurative leap into the unknown. I quit my job to embrace the amazingly unexpected opportunity to become a professional explorer and filmmaker, and am currently in discussions with a number of TV networks and iconic film brands. What the future holds is still uncertain, but it feels good marching to the beat of my own drum.
I’ll return to the volcano in December with a team of volcanic pioneers, scientists and filmmakers to make history in an attempt to be the first to document, record and explore the world’s rarest and most newly-formed lava lake. I’m currently seeking funding and will allow six guests to join the expedition.
What were some of your favorite things to see and do while living in Athens?
Some of my favorite memories are of lying in the grass on the beautiful grounds of North Campus, soaking in the intellectual energy of my surroundings. I loved interacting with my twin sister and our diverse group of friends, celebrating game days, spending time at coffee shops downtown, enjoying the amazing live music scene and day dreaming of ways in which I’d one day leverage my education and experiences to inspire others to pursue their own passions.
To learn more about Sam and his volcanic journey, click here.