OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Sea Grant Summer Scholars sought science experience

08/24/2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Asked what he learned this summer, Ian Heller said, “Time and tide wait for no man.”  With anyone else, it’d be a tired cliché, but with Heller, a student working with the Environmental Protection Agency, the lesson was personal and he was the one who was tired, waking at 5:30 a.m. most mornings.

Heller and fellow EPA student-worker Phillip Sanchez started crewing early mornings on small boats that pulled trawl nets through the Yaquina and Alsea marshes. The trawls would reveal how the estuaries are used by fish species that are economically important to Oregon.

Heller, a senior at Vassar College in New York, and Sanchez, a recent graduate of University of Florida, are two of the five “Summer Scholars” in a new program directed by Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University. The 10-week program gives undergraduates a taste of working in marine science, policy, and management by pairing them with mentors in federal, state and local agencies.

Over the summer, the students conducted research and analyses in the natural and social sciences, education and outreach, and policy. They helped agencies with their existing work and gained an understanding for what it is like to work in the public sector. The students wrote weekly reflections in which they discussed their previous week, challenges they faced, how they overcame them, and their plan for the following week. 

According to Julie Risien, program organizer with Sea Grant, “the general idea was to expose students to working in marine science and policy in the public sector – what is it like to work for a government agency?  What do agencies do?  What is their role in marine science or monitoring, or in setting, implementing, and evaluating marine policies?”

Katie Wrubel, a recent graduate of California State University Monterey Bay, found the answer to these questions working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife updating a database on the red sea urchin fishery off of Oregon.

“The people I met are the best part,” Wrubel said. “The marine science world is so small and it seems that everyone knows everyone, so joining that circle has opened so many doors for me.” While much of her work was at a computer, her deskwork was supplemented by jobs in the field that included going on dredge cruises and collecting squid eggs that washed up on the beach.

Risien asked agencies applying for a Summer Scholar to outline a project that could be completed in 10 weeks. “Participants have to give an oral presentation describing what they did, their approach and what they learned,” said Risien. “They also have to create a portfolio that they can use when applying for graduate school and jobs.”

Sanchez felt that he was put to good use during his time with the EPA. Besides assisting with the marsh trawls, he worked with his mentor Jim Power as the primary tagger for a study of staghorn sculpins. “If I said I was not being utilized, it would have to be a lie,” he said. “My presence allows Jim to spend more time in the field. I have been put in charge of a wet lab, and I have been an integral part of other projects.”

Daniel Brusa, an undergrad at SUNY Rockland Community College, N.Y., worked with Oregon Sea Grant through the Lincoln County Extension Office evaluating the effectiveness of educational efforts at the Newport waterfront.  He observed how tourists use signs describing the local sea lion population. His observations will be used to help create new and more noticeable signs along the waterfront.

For some, the benefit of the program was in finding out what they do not want to do. After focusing on marine policy, AnnaRose Adams, an OSU senior, found that policy was not her calling.

“I have realized that I do not want to be formally involved with the political process,” she said. “If I am going to make a change, I am definitely not going to wait for the government to make it.” Instead, the experience has refocused her on science, working for nongovernmental organizations, and marine consulting.

For more about the scholars and the program, see http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/seagrantscholars/meet-the-scholars/