Welcome to summer! From July 6 - 12, 2017, USC Sea Grant, in partnership with the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations and Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, is hosting 16 high school students from across the country at the USC Phillip K. Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies on Catalina Island. Over the course of the week, students will work with local researchers, conduct their own research projects, learn about careers in marine science, build their own ROVs, snorkel, kayak, and explore the marine protected areas around the island.
By Jeremy Bellman, counselor
Our first day of the High School Marine Lab Experience began at the USC campus where students gathered from around the county. We have students from many different places as far as Hawaii, New York, Michigan, Alabama, and even Toronto, Canada! All gathered together to experience this amazing program and spend a week learning about marine and environmental science. Those who arrived early on campus took a trip to the California Science Center to explore the Ecosystems exhibit and get a hands-on experience of different ecosystems around the world. Soon after, all students gathered for an insightful tour of the biological labs on the USC campus, led by a graduate student. In the early evening, students visited the aquaponics garden on campus and learned of the beneficial effects to having an aquaponics garden in their own community. The day wrapped up as students learned about core-drilling in the oceans and participated in a small drilling simulation of their own. Finally, it was off to an early night’s sleep as we look forward to a bright and early morning to sail off to the one and only Catalina Island!
Students Jessika Colon, Christian Escobar, Char Gagnon had this to say about today’s events:
Jessika Colon: “I was very nervous when I first came to campus. After I started hanging with people and getting to know them, I felt more comfortable being here and was excited. Today, I learned about aquaponics and how it can be very beneficial to the future we are headed and how we need to preserve as much water and plants as possible. I look forward to learning more about marine science and communicating with more people about it!
Christian Escobar: “I felt comfortable coming to USC campus because I’ve been here before when I was touring colleges with my sister. Once I got to know everyone, I felt really comfortable and happy to be here. What I liked most about today was when we went to the lab and I saw all the experiments, facts, and research that they do in the lab. It was all very interesting and informative. I definitely look forward to snorkeling and seeing the bioluminescent algae.”
Char Gagnon: “When I arrived on campus, I felt invigorated because it was a totally new experience for myself. I was nervous about being the youngest in the group but now I feel comfortable getting to know the people in my group and becoming friends with them. Today, I widened my experience with lab sets and how people manage research. This reminded me when I first saw my sister’s lab in New York so today I expanded my knowledge on it. I look forward to building ROVs. Its been a while since I soldered anything so I look forward to doing it again and I’m excited about the entire trip really."
By Jeremy Bellman, counselor
The second day of the High School Marine Lab began with an early morning to catch the Miss Christie boat and sail off to Catalina Island! But first, we stopped to collect plankton samples at the Southern California Marine Institute (SCMI) - we’ll be comparing them to we take samples at Catalina Island later. After a wavy and bumpy boat ride, we arrive at Catalina Island at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies! Without wasting time, students get into groups to alternate between snorkeling around the center and building some ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles) with their amazing counselors. After lunch, students got the opportunity to get a tour of the labs that the current REUs (Research Experience for Undergraduates) are working in for their research projects involving topics such as environmental, marine, and biological studies. Later that evening, students had an opportunity to do a little of their own research and look at the plankton they towed from SCMI and the sample they collected on Catalina when we arrived. The day wraps up as students learn just some of the many types of plankton that exist and their influence on marine ecosystems. Another exiting day of activities and new experiences awaits everyone tomorrow!
Students Brianda Garcia, Diego Osornio, Angie Portillo had this to say about today’s events:
Brianda Garcia: “When I was on the boat ride, I was really nervous about getting there, but when I arrived, I was overwhelmed with the whole island but then I saw the ocean and I was so happy to be here. When we did snorkeling, I was very excited to try something new that I have not tried before! Today was good and it’s going to get better. I feel a lot more comfortable now and I know my group a lot better. Today I learned to not be scared to try new things. I look forward to everything and being open to new experiences and events"
Diego Osornio: “The trip on the way here was nice because we got to see dolphins which I’ve never seen before. I’ve been to Catalina before when I went to Avalon but I was taken aback by how beautiful the ocean and scenery is and how secluded this part of the island is. Snorkeling was definitely my favorite part of today. Putting on a wetsuit itself was something fun to remember. I used to think phytoplankton were little species in ocean and I had a rough image of them before but I expanded my knowledge of it today. I would like to see more wildlife here, especially bison, before I leave"
Angie Portillo: “It was a little rough on the boat but I was mesmerized when I arrived on the island which made the bumpy trip worth it. I’m always working or I’m in my house so I don’t go out much. Coming here today was definitely something new and exciting for me. Snorkeling was my favorite activity today. I learned there are different types of plankton that have different jobs for different reasons, which I found very interesting. I learned today that the best way to make new friends and meet new people is to just go for it and talk to them. It’s a great experience. I look forward to seeing everyone grow and change on the trip. It’ll be fantastic seeing how the program changes people."
By Jeremy Bellman, counselor
Day 3 began with an exciting and fun kayaking session around the Wrigley area! While some students were nervous about kayaking for the first time, by the end of the session, everyone was a kayaking pro! After lunch, groups of students set out for a hiking trip up Deer Valley while others continued to work hard on their personal ROVs (remotely operated vehicles). Students learned about the geology of Catalina Island and of some of the native and invasive species that currently inhabit the island. In the evening, students went to the library to discuss their upcoming research projects, which they will begin working on tomorrow. They also discussed the conditions of the current science world and the improvements that need to be made to have a bright and hopeful future in the scientific and environmental world.
Students Johana Servantes, Nicole Urrutia, Jessy Gayosso had this to say about today:
Johana Servantes: “I really liked the kayaking today. I got to work with people and practice good teamwork. We even got to see sea lions and lots of fish in the water! On the hike today, I learned the geography of Catalina and the different types of rocks here that can be used for chalk and other purposes. Building the ROVs was difficult because it was hard to construct and put together at times but I learned to overcome it and follow the instructions carefully which worked out well. So far, I think it’s a great experience. Definitely something I would do again. I would recommend others to really do it.”
Nicole Urrutia: “I also liked kayaking and the distance we kayaked was strenuous but seeing the seals, kelp, and learning about the environment was all fascinating. Today I learned about non-native and native species on the island like the mustard plant and what people on this island are currently doing to study it. I also learned of the extent to which it can affect the island. Having the patience to build the ROVs and making mistakes and learning from them helped me build up experience and it’s worth the struggle to learn new things. I am definitely enjoying it so far! Bringing new experiences and meeting new people and learning about science in a new light is all great!”
Jessy Gayosso: “I actually liked hiking today. I learned that several types of plants that can affect the environment but they all have a different purpose and defense. The walking during the hike was really difficult but once you really look around you, the struggle is worth it! I am really enjoying everything about this trip! Everything is prepared and even the food is great on top of all the amazing new experiences we are getting to do!”
By Jeremy Bellman, counselor
Today students jumped right back in the water as Day 4 began with another snorkeling session to observe more fascinating species around Wrigley and prepare students for the future night snorkel! After lunch, students went right back to finishing up their ROVs and began working on their research topics that will allow them to experiment and research any subject they want as if they were interns on campus. After a hard day’s work, students gathered together and drove up to Little Harbor for a time of leisure, relaxation, and fun. Even though one vehicle caught a flat tire, students today learned a valuable life lesson of how to change a tire and continued their trip to Little Harbor. Once students got to Little Harbor, they had many options to enjoy their time - from going into the water, taking a scenic hike, and doing arts and crafts - while awaiting a delicious dinner cooked on the fire with tasty smores afterwards. The day wrapped up as everyone headed back to campus and came together to share their personal connection to the ocean and how they ended up here today.
Flor Villanueva, Conner Johnson, Jessy Gayosso shared their thoughts of today’s events:
Flor Villanueva: “Today was a lot fun! We got more free time to go in the water, work on our projects, and we really bonded a lot more today than any other day. I learned today that the Sheepshead fish changes gender and other fishes do that as well to overcome several reproduction obstacles that other species don’t have to face. Building the ROVs and getting it all together felt really good to do today because everything was starting to fit together perfectly. My favorite memory of the ocean was going there so many times during the week with my family when I was younger and I have fallen in love with the ocean since then.”
Connor Johnson: “Today was great, fun, and also a little tiring with all the activities we did today. Seeing a bison today and getting close to it to take a picture was great to see and definitely my highlight of today. Today I learned more about everyone’s backstory where they live and their connection to the ocean which was all very fascinating and I loved learning more about them. Looking out in the water and seeing the sunsets were always my favorite memory of the ocean.”
Jessy Gayosso: “Today was incredible! I understood a lot of things and got the opportunity to start working on projects I want to try on my own. One highlight was seeing the bison and learning how to swim on my own without any floaties really made my day! I also learned the leopard sharks aren’t something to be fearful of. If you keep your distance from some animals you’ll be fine because most are harmless. My main concern right now that I would like to look into is the non-native plants of the island and taking over the native plants and destroying the habitats of the animals that live in them that can also affect the ocean as well. I would like to do some research on how we can resolve that issue.”
By Jeremy Bellman, counselor
Students were very busy today and started their morning working right away on their research projects and their ROVs. Every group has selected a research project that is amazing and crucial to help study the ecosystem and marine species. These projects include surveying leopard shark populations, analyzing bioluminescent plankton, observing squid eating habits, and aquaponics. Students worked most of the day on their projects and ROVs until we took a small break in the afternoon for a hike up the Catalina ridge to observe the amazing scenery and geology of the island. After dinner, students geared up for their very first session of night snorkeling! While students were nervous of swimming in the dark for the first time in their life, they quickly turned that feeling around when they got in the water and saw all the amazing species that come out at night including the bioluminescent plankton that glowed in the water! As the program comes to an end soon, students cannot get enough of all the amazing activities they have done and all the friendships they have made throughout the week.
Students Jose Lopez, Andy Rincon, and Jolan Clinton had this to say about today’s events:
Jose Lopez: “Today I learned how to dilute my algae by putting ethanol on them and counting the number of algae under a microscope to see how many we caught in a sample. I liked the night snorkeling the most because it was pitch black and we saw the bioluminescent in the water, which was truly fascinating. The project I’m working on is coming along well! We just have to work on our presentation, which will turn out amazing! I feel sad that the week is ending soon! I liked this program so much and I did so many amazing things that I don’t want it to end.”
Andy Rincon: “While on the hike today, I saw a lot of mustard plants and I learned the rocks we were walking on was once lava from the island. I loved the night snorkeling because it was very dark and I got to see the stars in the sky and also the twinkling of the plankton below me. We’re receiving a lot of data on our project and hope to get a lot of good results. I feel a little bummed the trip is almost over because I want it to last longer and the friends I made this week was amazing that I wish I could be with them longer!”
Jolan Clinton: “I learned today that bioluminescence comes from bacteria and it only glows when the species is disturbed. The night snorkeling was definitely my highlight because it was different than the day snorkeling and I got to see many species that I wouldn’t see during the day. The results of the project I’m working on isn’t going as expected but they are interesting to get different results and where it might go from here. I’m sad this is the second to last day because I want to stay. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and I enjoyed it a lot!”
By Jeremy Bellman, counselor
As the High School Summer Marine Lab for 2017 comes to a close, students are just begging to stay longer on this amazing island with their new friends and wish they could continue doing all the amazing activities they have been doing. Without a minute to waste, students hopped on their kayaks and rowed over to Two Harbors for a tour and a visit to the mud flats. Upon returning to campus, students went right to work to finish their ROVs before they take them home, and finish their research project presentations, which they will present tomorrow! Students continued to work very hard on both their projects and ROVs until late evening when they we gathered together to decorate reusable bags and everyone signed others’ bags as a token of our stay here. Finally, there is nothing better to do to say our farewells than an evening walk under the starry sky. Students walked together to see the clear sky with millions of stars that allowed everyone to make a wish of their own. Even though this was the last night together, there is still plenty more to do tomorrow before we finally say goodbye to Catalina…for now!
Students Sirr Favors and Brian Crear had this to say about today:
Sirr Favors: “I loved today. Today was a really amazing day. I spent time with people that I can truly call my new friends! I liked the star gazing walk the best! I liked the sound of nature it when we were under the stars. It was very relaxing and amazing. I’m really going to miss everyone and the amazing atmosphere the most. I appreciated the program a lot. I loved the people and activities we put on here. I want to thank the people who took the time to put this together. Everyone has been so nice and amazing!”
Brian Crear: “I really enjoyed today! I loved star gazing the most and I’m excited I finally finished my ROV today and can take it home tomorrow. I’m going to miss this entire island and place. I loved the friends and memories I have made in this place and I hope they stay with me for a long time. The program was fun and filled with activities and amazing people that I’m thankful for.”
By Jeremy Bellman, counselor
The final day of the 2017 High School Summer Science Marine Lab was filled with activities before students headed on home! A couple of students woke up bright and early to hike up the Catalina ridge and visit the tide pools and observe all the marine animals that are there in the low tide. After breakfast, all students wrapped up all their ROVs and research projects and shared their findings in a series of peer presentations. Soon, everyone gathered together to say goodbyes to one another before boarding the Miss Christie boat to ride back home. After a week, many new friendships have been made, many new things were learned, and many memories were created that will remain for a long time. The Lab was an ultimate success that brought people together and presented them with tons of new experiences that were fun, knowledgeable, and amazing.
Counselors Jeremy Bellman, Roxanna Pakkar, Kenia Gomez, and Victoria Dudas had this to say about the week:
Jeremy Bellman: “As my second year as a counselor, this had truly been one of the best trips I have experienced so far in all my visits to the Wrigley Center! Of course, there was never a time I was disappointed with this program! Every time I come, there are new faces, new things to learn, and new experiences to go through that really brings a lot to my life and everyone else who participated. I am both proud and honored to have this opportunity in my life and so is everyone who participated. There is no other program like this one and I hope it continues for a long time!
My favorite part was really seeing all the students change and come together throughout the trip. It’s funny seeing them all shy and quiet on the first day and by the end of the week, everyone is giving hugs to each other and taking hundreds of pictures with each other. I love seeing new friendships and relationships develop. Everyone who was invited on this trip came because they were all unique but they all shared the love and passion for knowledge, adventure, and new experiences. That united them and brought them together. Who would’ve known 16 students from different places around the world would ever come together one day and become friends? I find that truly amazing.
I feel like this program has a lot to offer than any other high school program. It’s set on a campus that allows easy access to many activities including snorkeling, hiking, and kayaking. Additionally, students get the opportunity to do a pilot research project like the interns on the island to give them that taste of what it is like in the future when they are in college and want to conduct research of their own. I can’t think of any other program that does that. Also, the program brings people together in the most unexpected ways, which makes me really happy to see.
I learned that no matter where you come from and who you are, once you just clear everything you know and just take a moment to stop and look around you at where you are and who you are with, amazing things can happen. After going through a couple stressful weeks before coming to Catalina, this trip taught me exactly that. Even when things get stressful, it is always good to pause, reflect, and appreciate all the good things that are around you in life. Even the simplest things can make you the happiest.
I’m going to miss the students the most. Without them, this program would not be the same. The students make the program. All their unique talents, personalities, and mindsets creates a big bowl of possibilities for the future that also shows people can create and come up with many amazing things if they only communicate well with each other and build and support each other every step of the way. This truly was an amazing experience and I wish I could go back and relive it again!”
Roxanna Pakkar: I absolutely loved my experience as counselor this past week! This program far exceeded my expectations for how many new and amazing experiences we would have from night snorkeling to seeing endemic species, with fantastic students who never stopped asking questions about everything around us. I’m so glad that I got to experience this under the guidance of the amazing Linda [Chilton] and Xana [Hermosillo] who put so much into making this a fantastic program for both the students and counselors.
My favorite part was the individual time I got to spend with the students, whether it be with my group in counselor time or chats in between working in lab, or our many activities. I loved being able to share with them advice for college and pushing them to try new things especially with building the ROV’s. Just seeing the students become comfortable with tasks they might not have been exposed to otherwise, such as using a multimeter and soldering, made me so proud.
This program is set apart by the many opportunities the students have to do impactful work through their research, the outreach efforts they are required to lead after the program, and the amount we push them to step outside of their comfort zones, whether it be night snorkeling or building an ROV from scratch. I think it’s remarkable that many of the students conducted research that will be continued by researchers here on the island.
Through this experience I learned so much more about mentorship and the patience required to be a camp counselor. This was my first experience as a counselor and I gained a much greater appreciation for the work camp counselors had put into guiding me when I was younger. I also learned so much more about marine biology, the wildlife of this island, and the importance of ocean conservation efforts. I’ve gained a much greater awareness for the many issues that affect our oceans and how we can all work to raise awareness to encourage sustainable efforts in protecting these ecosystems.
I’m going to miss waking up every morning on this beautiful island and walking down the hill through the Wrigley campus with that stunning view of the cove, all of this alongside my students of course, excited for whatever awesome adventure Linda had planned for us that day.”
Kenia Gomez: “This is my second year as a counselor for this program, and it is always a joy to be on the island and work with the students. Watching the students progress as a community and as individuals is rewarding, and being able to guide that process makes being a counselor worth it.
I was able to work with a group of students on their research project involving bioluminescence. At first we were not sure if we would be able to accomplish the goals we had in mind, but the researchers on the island helped us to culture samples of bacteria with bioluminescence. It was the first time the students had done any sort of microbiology and it was very exciting for them. They were exposed to something completely different, and were so thrilled to successfully complete their project. It was definitely one of the highlights of my week.
I think this program allows students to feel confident in their ability to succeed in the sciences or other fields. We push the students beyond their comfort zones throughout the week, and present them with challenges that they are not used to. Even so, they are given the tools they need to succeed and really understand what they are doing. They learn so much about themselves and science in a beautiful island setting.
This experience taught me that it is always important to reach out and ask others for help. On the island there is always someone who is willing to help out or knows how to connect you with someone who can. For example, we wanted to capture images of the bioluminescence, but our cameras couldn't capture the image. Then John Heidelburg, one of the directors of the labs of the island, offered to take pictures for us and edit them for our presentation. This made a difference for the students, and demonstrated to me that it is always worth at least asking.
[I will miss] being on the island! Catalina is a truly magical place, and the tranquility and environment on the Wrigley campus is a phenomenon which I already miss. Being back in LA everything so much busier and louder, and it just reminds me of the wonderful experiences I have had on the island because of this program."
Victoria Dudas: “I loved working for this program as a counselor, it gave me an opportunity to see so many bright students who are motivated and excited about education and knowledge. I left the island feeling as though each of the students learned and experienced so much, and knowing that I was able to facilitate in their learning process and experiences.
My favorite part was helping the students build their own skills and watching them get excited about the new information they’ve learned. Personally, I am very interested in aquaponics systems, and hearing that some of the students wanted to build aquaponics systems for their outreach [after the program] made me so excited to know that I can still help them in the future with things like aquaponics.
This program is so different from any other high school program because this is an opportunity for the students to go experience Catalina, which may be a new place to many. And not only interact with other students but scientists as well to learn, conduct experiments, and research.
From this experience, I learned that many students don’t have these kinds of opportunities regularly, and so for them to be here is absolutely incredible for both them and myself. One of the most important things that I learned was that these students are so motivated to get to where they want to be in the future and have so many ideas for the future.
I am going to miss each of the students, they were all so wonderful and each one brought so much character to the trip and I hope for the very best for each of them. I can’t wait to see and hear about all the amazing things they are going to do in the future!”