What’s the best way to learn about careers in oceanographic science? Meeting with scientists and professionals from world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a great way to start.
Students watch as a scientist conducts an experiment at the first ever "Exploring Ocean Careers" event
On April 1, 2014, Birch Aquarium hosted its first ever “Exploring Ocean Careers” event. Nearly half of the 200 people in attendance were students, ranging from grades 6-12, ready and eager to learn about the possibilities of ocean science. More than a dozen Scripps scientists and researchers were on hand to meet the inquisitive students, answer their questions, and talk to them about the exciting opportunities available in ocean, earth, and atmospheric science.
Cheryl Peach, director of Scripps Educational Alliances at UC San Diego and a Birch Aquarium program scientist, kicked off the evening with a moving speech, which encouraged students to take every opportunity possible to learn more.
"Science is about asking questions. Science is about discovery," said Peach, who recently received a UC San Diego Diversity Award.
Peach recommended that students with a passion for ocean science should cultivate their skills by applying for internships, joining or starting clubs, and attending educational summer camps—in addition to taking as many math and science classes as possible.
"Math is the tool of science," said Peach, although she stressed that students should also practice their writing skills. “You can't choose a career in science to avoid having to write!”
The diverse cadre of Scripps scientists and professionals who participated in this event represent the vast possibilities available within ocean-related STEM careers. From marine biologists and geologists to engineers and geophysicists, there were valuable resources to engage a wide variety of student interests.
“Careers in ocean science are rewarding, worthwhile, interesting, diverse, and achievable,” said event participant Bruce Appelgate, associate director of Ship Operations and Marine Technical Support at Scripps.
Fostering positive interactions with bright young students is something that is important to Jay Turnbull, geophysical analyst for ROV Engineering and Operations at Scripps. “I am grateful to work for an organization where community education and outreach are high priorities; it adds a deep and meaningful dimension to being a part of the Scripps community,” said Turnbull.
During the career event, a young woman with interests in engineering and robotics approached Turnbull with questions about the field, about the growth of women in STEM academic programs and applied careers, and about any upcoming opportunities. Through this one-on-one interaction, Turnbull was able to connect this student to some upcoming engineering internships and academic programs.
Student Hailey Gilliland, 17, also attended the event, where she was eager to learn about careers relating to ocean conservation.
"I've lived by the ocean my whole life, and we see the animals and changes in the ocean and how we affect them,” said Gilliland. “I want to find ways to preserve the ocean for future generations.”
Over the course of the evening, Gilliland was able to connect with Emily Kelly, a Scripps graduate student and marine biologist who studies coral reefs and is currently working on preservation efforts. Learning about Kelly’s research gave Gilliland a real-life glimpse at what a future in ocean conservation might look like.
High school student Madison Moore, 17, also has a passion for the ocean.
"I've grown up going to the ocean, and my dad loves the beach too. I want to incorporate my love for the beach and find ways to help it,” said Moore, who is still weighing her career options.
Alex Hangsterfer, manager of the Scripps Geological Collections, was thrilled to participate in the event and give advice to curious students. She also wanted to let them know that there is more than one road to success.
“The best question I was asked tonight was, ‘What can I do to become a geologist?’ because I did all the wrong things to become a geologist!” explained Hangsterfer. “I started out wanting to be a marine biologist, but then deviated along a meandering path as I followed the things that truly inspired me and ended up here, and I’m very happy about it.”
Peter Franks, a biological oceanographer at Scripps, “had a blast” engaging with the students and further echoed Hangsterfer’s advice.
“I hoped that the students would understand that most of us didn't know what we wanted to do when we were their age, and that the path to a career is often not straight, and not obvious until afterwards,” said Franks.
Event attendee Andrew Fromme, 12, wants to build cars or machines when he grows up, but he also has an interest in marine biology. “I really like the ocean—I like all living things,” explained Fromme. He was excited to learn about microorganisms (“little animals in the ocean") and sonar.
Students like Gilliland, Moore, and Fromme represent the importance of such outreach events, which have the ability to positively impact aspiring young minds. Kerry Key, associate professor at the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps, had such a great time that he’s already looking forward to participating in the next event.
“I truly felt like I might have made an impact on a few of the kids,” said Key.
Due to the success of “Exploring Ocean Careers,” it’s likely that this event will become an annual tradition. This is good news for the next round of interested students, who might very well be the next generation of ocean science experts.