Mentor provides autonomy for student

In 2004, Tristan Peery was working as a marine environmental consultant in Florida, taking water temperature and salinity measurements that illustrated the physical state of the ocean.

Tristan Perry, left, found inspiration from Kipp Shearman, and is now his research assistant. (photo: Jim Folts)

Tristan Perry, left, found inspiration from Kipp Shearman, and is now his research assistant. (photo: Jim Folts)

He was doing what he wanted, but with just a bachelor’s degree in science, “I saw a glass ceiling for those who didn’t have higher degrees,” Peery says. “And I wanted to see what research had to offer for career opportunities.”

Even in Florida, OSU’s oceanography program has an excellent reputation. And when Peery came here, he met Kipp Shearman and learned about gliders.

“Kipp’s a great guy all around. He’s excited about the research he’s doing. He’s taking water quality monitoring to a completely different level. It seemed like a good fit,” Peery says.

Shearman was impressed with Peery’s experience with instrumentation as well as his determination. Peery took a class in differential equations to bolster his math background before he was accepted to OSU’s graduate program in the summer of 2006.

Shearman brought Peery into his research using robotic, rocket-like autonomous gliders, which cruise through the ocean off the Oregon coast and measure temperature, salinity, optical properties, chlorophyll and — one of the major focuses of the research — oxygen levels in the water. “Gliders are a newer technology, and I think that was one of the selling points of the job for Tristan,” Shearman says.

Shearman and his lab are breaking new ground by maintaining a small fleet of gliders sampling Oregon’s coastal ocean 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The gliders are programmed to surface every 6 hours, call Shearman’s lab and provide reams of data to be analyzed.

There’s so much data that Shearman likens it to taking a drink of water from a fire hose. That’s where Peery comes in. His job was to devise a way to integrate all the information the gliders provide, as well as work on the team operating the gliders, which cost about $100,000 each.
This autonomy is one of the reasons Peery — who graduated in 2007 and now works as a full-time faculty research assistant — admires Shearman as a mentor.

“Students look at Kipp as someone who’s approachable and who’s easy to talk to,” says Peery. “He’s one of those people who tries to help you along your own way. And that’s huge.”

For Shearman, mentoring students is important because they can provide energy and focus to the research that colleagues cannot. “Tristan’s research will be beneficial to all groups operating gliders, and I wouldn’t be able to do that on my own,” Shearman says. “Being a professor, you want to make impacts, to do things that make a difference. Students are an effective way to do that.”

~ Celine Carillo

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