NEWPORT - Educators from Oregon State University and Oregon Coast Community College have jointly developed one the nation's first educational programs to train "aquarists," responding to a need for more experts with practical, applied knowledge in ornamental fish health and care.
The first class in this two-year, associates degree program at OCCC will begin this September. It has been supported by a new $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and other fund-raising efforts that provide a total of about $1 million to get the program under way. A large number of private companies in aquarium and marine science have also provided support.
"A national survey we did showed that there's a significant need for trained individuals to work in aquarium science who may not have bachelor's degrees in biology but have a solid background in ornamental fish health, aquarium design and operation, and many other topics," said Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan, an assistant professor of veterinary medicine at OSU. He is a Sea Grant Extension veterinarian and a co-developer of the program, along with Jane Hodgkins and Bruce Koike at OCCC.
It's anticipated that employment opportunities for graduates with these skills should be strong, the educators say. The first class will have a maximum of 25 students, and a few positions are still open.
"This aquarium science program will be a true signature program for Oregon Coast Community College," said Hodgkins. "Strong local partnerships with OSU and the Oregon Coast Aquarium have made this possible, and the program should be of great value to the aquarium and ornamental fish industry.
"They are looking for employees with practical, applied skills who can maintain healthy fish populations and the systems that support them," she added. "Those are the skills our graduates will have."
One of the directors and teachers in the new program will also be Koike, who has a master's degree in fisheries science from OSU and extensive experience in public aquariums, including service as director of animal husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Students in this program will learn about the captive biology of fish and invertebrates, aquarium system and exhibit design, communication skills, fish and invertebrate health management, nutrition and reproduction, and other topics. There will be an emphasis on laboratories and "hands-on" skills, and the program will include a 10-week internship in aquarium practice and operation.
Most of the courses will be taught at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.
More information about the program can be obtained on the web at http://www.occc.cc.or.us/aquarium/index.htm.