By Colleen Wisniewski, Southern California Regional Manager, Reef Check California Program
On Saturday March 21st, I attended the annual Girls in Ocean Science Teen Conference as an invited science mentor. The two-day event was held at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California with the goal of introducing high school girls to women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. Approximately 100 girls attended the conference each day and eight female mentors led them in question and answer sessions and hands-on activities in their field of expertise. Attendees came from schools throughout Southern California and the event was organized by an impressive committee of middle school and high school girls. This annual event began in 2007 as a one-day affair and has now expanded to two separate weekend-long conferences, one for middle school girls in February and one for high school girls in March.
The group split into several teams and rotated through various lab-based activities. The girls also spent either a full morning or afternoon aboard the Ocean Institute’s research vessel, the R/V Sea Explorer. Colleen and Jill Harris, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography PhD candidate, along with Ocean Institute staff, led the girls in an exploration of waters just off Dana Point. The team used an underwater camera to observe invasive seaweed inside Dana Point harbor, went out to the kelp forest and collected some samples, performed water chemistry measurements and investigated marine invertebrates like bat stars, sea cucumbers and sea urchins in touch tanks on deck. The girls also learned how to perform turbidity checks using a Secchi disk (over 20 meters of vertical visibility!) and collected a water sample at 20 meters depth. The temperature was a very balmy 60 degrees. I also had a full set of scuba and survey gear set up so the participants could see what I ‘wear to work’ each day. The ocean was alive as everyone observed a few migrating gray whales and a giant pod of dolphins. The day ended with a raffle and prizes for participants, followed by a reception with the mentors and committee members. All in all, it was such an amazing way to inspire teen girls by having them closely interact with women enjoying real careers in ocean science. And who knows, perhaps one day a few of these conference attendees (or conference organizers) will be future Reef Check volunteers or environmental leaders!
2016 conference information will be available this fall, check out http://ocean-institute.netcommunity1.com/Page.aspx?pid=496 for details.