Local teens get hands-on learning at Marine Science Center

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

NAHANT, Massachusetts – Northeastern’s Marine Science Center kicked off its outreach field season on Tuesday by hosting teenagers from a school in Lynn, Massachusetts, who spent the morning exploring marine life along the center’s rocky shores, learning about biodiversity at the center’s touch tanks, and engaging with researchers studying everything from salt marshes to the physiology and health of corals.

After an introductory session, the teenagers—15 juniors and seniors who are taking a marine biology class at St. Mary’s high school—trekked down to the intertidal zone steps away from the center’s research facilities. There, they took measurements on the number of marine animals—such as snails, mussels, crabs, and shrimp—as well as the water temperature and salinity across various parts of the rocky shore. The students’ measurements will later be added to the center’s records for future research and study.

Téa Katsiris, 17, a junior, described the visit as “fascinating.” Katsiris—who has been scuba diving with her family over the past couple years off the coasts of Mexico and Australia at the Great Barrier Reef—said she was eager to get hands-on experience during the visit, which she said opened her eyes to future areas of research interest. “It was really cool and gave me a lot of motivation to do research in the future,” she said.

Victoria Sicard, who teaches the students’ marine biology course, said the visit dovetailed with concepts students are learning about in her classroom. She plans to assign each student a project focusing on a specific marine animal or plant that he or she learned about on the visit. “It’s good for them to see how what they are learning in class is pertinent and relevant to the world,” Sicard said.

Outreach programs

Outreach instructor Valerie Perini led Tuesday’s program, which also included a tour of the Marine Science Center grounds. Between now and November, the center will host more than 70 days of guided rocky shore programs, in addition to the variety of other outreach programs offered in schools and in the community throughout the year. The Marine Science Center also leads offsite field programs at local salt marshes, beaches, and other natural areas, while also offering offsite classroom programs in local schools.

“It’s exciting to be able to inspire the next generation of marine and environmental scientists by connecting youth and the public with local coastal ecosystems as well as the university’s faculty and students,” said Carole McCauley, outreach program coordinator. “They not only engage with core curriculum standards in our programs, but also learn about the opportunities for future studies and careers in related fields.”

In 2017, the center reached 1,546 students through off campus classroom programs and 2,299 through on campus programs—including its summer Coastal Ocean Science Academy. The Marine Science Center partners with and receives support from a number of local organizations to deliver its outreach programs, including the Lincoln and Therese Filene Foundation, Friends of Lynn & Nahant Beach, Nahant SWIM, Inc., MassBays National Estuary Program, and Nahant Education Foundation.

Northeastern’s outreach program also serves as a training ground for future science educators and researchers. Second-year student Lisa Wu, S’20, is currently working on co-op in the Marine Science Center’s outreach program.

On Tuesday, part of her role involved helping direct students during their exploration of the center’s rocky shores. More broadly, her co-op has involved planning the High School Marine Science Symposium earlier this semester, taking care of the center’s touch tanks, and working in associate professor Jennifer Bowen’s lab. “I’m loving my experience,” she said.