Tuskegee University (TU) students and faculty visited a variety of facilities affiliated with The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Coastal Operations during the 2022 Ocean Exploration Club field trip held last month. The Tuskegee contingent participated in activities to explore the field of ocean exploration, science, and research.
The field trip is part of the Ocean Explorers Internship Program that addresses the NOAA Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute’s (OECI) theme of increasing the utility of ocean exploration information by engaging and encouraging the next generation of ocean explorers, scientists, and engineers.
The paid internship program, coordinated by USM’s Marine Education Center (MEC), engages undergraduate students from Tuskegee in the field of ocean exploration and research. A relationship between the MEC, the Tuskegee student body and faculty has been cultivated through the Ocean Exploration Club, which is composed of several dozen TU students and coordinated by MEC staff and TU faculty.
MEC Director Dr. Jessie Kastler explains that several staff members traveled to Tuskegee in November 2019 to develop the undergraduate ocean exploration partnership. When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in March 2020 and became widespread, the groups were forced to meet online.
“I can’t believe the students kept returning despite our interactions being solely online,” said Kastler. “It was a pleasure to show them some of USM’s coastal resources in person this year. Rae Quadara (OECI Internship Program Manager) coordinated the group’s interaction with researchers and graduate students, but she maintains her focus on developing one-on-one relationships with students interested in learning about career opportunities in ocean exploration.”
During the trip, TU students participated in outdoor learning activities at the MEC, interacted and networked with graduate students and professionals, visited USM’s Marine Research Center and R/V Point Sur in Gulfport, and engaged in a variety of sampling techniques on the R/V Jim Frank and Cat Island.
As one student noted: “I didn’t know about the different routes you could take in the marine science field. I love how everyone was unique and it was not a straight-forward process and they shared that life happens and things always don’t go our way. I was inspired by everyone’s passion and now want to go into the marine field. I now feel comfortable in my academic journey and have a better vision as far as what I want to do.”
Through the internship program selected students contribute to research and data collection efforts across OECI partners, while also charting a path for a more diverse ocean exploration workforce with on-going mentorship from faculty, staff, and graduate students in the field of ocean exploration.
Interns also have the opportunity to go to sea aboard OECI research vessels. Internship activities may include seafloor mapping data acquisition, processing and analysis, engineering design and development, at-sea operations, science communication, and content development.
Click the link below to find out more about the partnership with Tuskegee University, the first Ocean Explorer Internship, and the scientists involved through the USM episode of NOAA OECI Seminar Series: NOAA OECI: Seek and Discover – Shipwrecks of the Past Inspiring Ocean Explorers of the Future