Saturday, February 4 was a busy day for University of Guam Master’s candidate in Biology and Sea Grant Fellow Valeri Lapacek as she hosted her community outreach called “A Day in the Life of a Marine Biologist.” Lapacek taught kids about what marine biologists do, shared her excitement about the ocean and its inhabitants, and educated about the importance of corals.
Sea Grant Fellows, UOG graduate students receiving funds to support their research, must design and implement outreach activities as part of their proposed work plans.
The five-hour “Day in the Life” at UOG’s Marine Lab included tasks that a marine biologist may perform regularly. Youth participants, ages 7 to 15 years old, observed jellyfish, sea cucumbers, and starfish in touch tanks, practicing survey techniques used to describe and monitor organisms. They also spent a few hours doing lab work.
“At one station, kids were able to dissect a coral polyp and examine its eggs—all while looking through a microscope. The other station allowed kids to grind up coral tissue into a slurry, make a microscope slide, and use a microscope to look for tiny algae cells that live in coral tissue,” said Lapacek.
The coral tissue lab stations were particularly important to Lapacek, who researches the reproductive biology of Guam’s staghorn Acropora coral. She examines how coral health impacts, such as bleaching events, impact the staghorn coral’s ability to reproduce efficiently.
“A Day in the Life of a Marine Biologist” was a collaboration between Sea Grant’s Turtle Education Outreach Interns, informally known as “T-Squad,” Sea Grant faculty Marie Auyong, and Big Brothers Big Sisters Guam (BBBSG).
Big Brothers Big Sisters Guam is a nonprofit agency that matches children (“Littles”) facing adversity with adult “Big” brothers or sisters. The organization also manages an AmeriCorps cohort of volunteers based at school and community sites.
“In a nutshell, we match volunteer role models with youth for a one-to-one mentoring relationship. We provide case management support for the matches and we plan regular enrichment activities for the program participants,” says BBBSG Executive Director Vanessa Estella.
Lapacek chose to work with this organization for a few specific reasons. “First, I was able to target two audiences, kids and young adults. Secondly, the BBBSG pairs had to work together as a team to complete the tasks, since most of the activities were challenging,” said Lapacek.
The importance of this outreach event resounded heavily with T-Squad interns and BBBSG volunteers. “Outreaches like this that expose youth to different careers could allow them start developing dreams and start thinking about the kind of future they could have someday,” said T-Squad intern and junior biology major Marcel Jardeleza. “This event was the definition of ‘bringing science to the people.’”
BBBSG AmeriCorps volunteer Domini Prudente commented, “Kids experienced a new world of creatures that piqued their curiosity. This event also allowed them to experience socializing with intellectuals and make new friends through the event.”
For more information about Sea Grant Fellows or how to design science-based community education events, contact Marie Auyong at firstname.lastname@example.org.