|A minority intern from Savannah State University's Marine Sciences Department plans and leads weekly programs for the students.|
Michelle Duncan didn't learn that she could get a job in the marine science field until she was a senior in high school. She credits a college internship at a Georgia National Marine Sanctuary with getting her where she is today, working as a fishery biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"Gray's Reef [National Marine Sanctuary] provided a huge amount of opportunities for me," Duncan says. "That internship actually got me where I am today."
This is the impact that the sanctuary's Student Ocean Council program seems to have on its participants. Cathy Sakas, education coordinator for Gray's Reef, can rattle off a list of students who were either persuaded to go into the marine science field, or whose experience with the program has led to other opportunities.
The Student Ocean Council, the only program of its kind in the National Marine Sanctuary System, is made up of upper-level high school students from local public, private, and home schools who have a desire to learn more about ocean science related careers and subjects.
A minority intern from Savannah State University's Marine Sciences Department plans and leads weekly programs for the students, which range from participating in water quality sampling to taking an introductory scuba lesson. The students in this year's program will build a remotely operated vehicle and enter it in a national competition.
Duncan was the first intern when the program started in 1999.
The council evolved out of a student summit that Dr. Sylvia Earle, explorer-in-residence of the National Geographic Society, held at the sanctuary as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Sustainable Seas Expeditions.
The summit gave students a taste of potential ocean careers, but Sakas says she really "wanted to get them more involved; to really hook them into marine science."
Every year since then, science teachers have chosen three students from each school to participate on the council. Students are chosen based on their interest and their ability to juggle academics and extracurricular activities. Students also must have their own transportation as the weekly programs may take place anywhere along the state's coastline.
The chair of Savannah State University's Marine Science Department nominates a minority college student for the internship. The sanctuary staff interviews the candidate, looking for an interest in marine science education, an understanding of how research is conducted, and the ability to work with high school students.
Sakas says a minority student is chosen to help promote diversity in the marine science field.
"What makes me feel so good about this program," Sakas says, "is that it is an opportunity for me and the intern to deal directly—almost one-on-one—with students who are already interested in marine science. We foster them and give them the opportunity to go further than they could on their own."
"I didn't have anything like this when I was growing up," notes Duncan. "These kids [on the council] know about careers in marine science long before they go to college, and it might be one of their choices."
She adds, "I wish I'd had something like that when I was in high school."
For more information on the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary Student Ocean Council, point your browser to http://graysreef.noaa.gov/studentcouncil.html. You may also contact Cathy Sakas at (912) 598-2417 or Cathy.Sakas@noaa.gov.