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High School Students Dive Into Science Through USC's Sea Grant Program

Cristy Lytal |
August 2, 2012 | 2:39 p.m. PDT

Five of the 19 high school students who participated in USC Sea Grant’s 2012 Summer Science Program on Catalina Island didn’t know how to swim. But that didn’t stop them from snorkeling—with a little help from their buoyant wetsuits.

“They’re incredibly brave. They’ve gotten in the water twice, and they’re going to do a night snorkel tonight,” said Linda Chilton, education program coordinator for the USC Sea Grant Program, which supports research, communication, education and public outreach about Southern California's "urban ocean."

For a week in July, the co-ed camp immersed high school students not only in sea water, but also in a marine science curriculum focused on microbes, life in the sediments and tools for deep-water exploration. And thanks to funding from the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI), the camp was entirely free for students from underrepresented groups in science, technology and engineering. All of the participants filled out applications, wrote essays, submitted letters of support from their teachers and earned their spots through a highly selective process.

“It’s an honor to actually be here, to get chosen out of many people who actually applied for it,” said Dane Neri, a student from Downey.

During the camp, the students completed group research projects, which involved challenges such as taking fish counts, examining plankton assemblages and building a robotic vehicle. They also did everything from touring a hyperbaric chamber to hiking along sea cliffs. Two students of Chumash descent, William Sanchez of Northridge and Emilio Valenzuela from Ventura, shared their culture and knowledge of the Channel Islands with their peers.

For everyone who participated, the week meant new experiences, as well as gained knowledge and appreciation for the region's waters.

“It’s been pretty fun,” said Shakem Cross of Virginia Beach. “I did things I never did before, like kayaking and snorkeling. I saw fish I never saw before. Garibaldis are the orange ones, and there are leopard sharks out there.”

Indira Galvez, a student from Los Alamitos, used to think the ocean had “a lot of gross stuff in there.” Now, she said, “I see it’s really beautiful. There’s a whole world down there, and it’s really interesting.”

And even though the camp has officially ended, the education continues.

“They’ve all committed to taking back what they learned,” Chilton said, “and sharing it with their communities, their schools, their families.”


Reach Contributor Cristy Lytal here



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