The SUSiE Chronicles: Professional Development For Collegiates – Under the Surface

The SUSiE Chronicles: Group Shot
The SUSiE Chronicles: Group Shot

My name is Mallory Morgan and I recently graduated from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. This past July I joined the Science Under Sail Institute for Exploration (or SUSiE) as a SEAmbassador.

Welcome to this series of articles from my time with SUSiE – The SUSiE Chronicles!

You can read more, during the course of this week, by clicking here.

Professional Development For Collegiates – Under the Surface

“GO DEEPER THAN THE SURFACE” – SUSiE Fellow Ashley Howell

With today’s high level of academic competition, a new market has emerged for bright undergraduate and graduate students constantly requiring unique experiences to build their resume. The Science Under Sail Institute for Exploration, or SUSiE, offers just that and so much more. I had the wonderful opportunity this past July to visit 9 students completely submersed in marine fieldwork in the Exuma Cays, Bahamas.

What I witnessed was inspiring, exciting, and refreshing.

The SUSiE Chronicles: Mallory explaining ocean acidification
The SUSiE Chronicles: Mallory explaining ocean acidification

Of course, professional development is always better aboard a 50’ catamaran in the Caribbean. Whether you are looking to simply skim the surface of marine science or dive deeper, there is much to benefit aboard a summer expedition with SUSiE. The Science Under Sail Institute for Exploration (SUSiE) is a 501 c(3) non-profit dedicated to advancing the exploration and scientific research of coral reef ecosystems worldwide. Their approach is to take high-performing college students aboard scientific expeditions as an innovative, engaging platform to cultivate the next generation of ocean leaders. In addition, the institute offers college-to-career mentorship and lifelong connections. Through a rigorous application process, accepted students inducted in as SUSiE Fellows perform hands-on experiments, participate in nightly lectures in a stunning open-air classroom on the aft deck, learn to sail, and discover deeper who they are as a person, away from the distractions of American culture. One student explains, “I did this trip for guidance and reaffirmation of my current career path”. Another student said “programs like this instill a sense of appreciation. This experience gave me confidence about where I am headed and the work I am doing, as well as what other people are working so hard for.”

I personally participated as a “SEAmbassador” shortly after graduation from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography with a Master’s degree in marine biodiversity and conservation. On the beautiful back deck, or aft deck in boat lingo, I lectured on the impacts of climate change to coral reefs and their dependent communities. In turn I was eager to learn myself. This crew is performing some of the most cutting edge coral reef research happening today.

The SUSiE Chronicles: Mallory carrying nursery corals to explant site
The SUSiE Chronicles: Mallory carrying nursery corals to explant site

Of course, I was also keen to get off the grid and drown myself in the 27°C Caribbean water sans 7mm wetsuit.

Although these students come from very different academic backgrounds, one common interest unites them: the ocean. That’s what ultimately unites us all, and these students have dedicated their summer to understanding how they can preserve it. For example, this year SUSiE Fellows are studying the impacts plastic pollution has on corals, invasive coral symbionts, active coral restoration techniques, and how coral reef ecosystems are shifting with human influence.

Regardless of one’s history with marine science, Dr. Robin Smith’s dedication and obvious passion for coral is infectious. He is a progressive and bold researcher, challenging some of the most commonly accepted theories of coral reef science that circulate today. Dr. Smith is leading the research on a new species of microscopic algae occupying Caribbean corals, Symbiodinium trenchii. Together with the students of SUSiE expeditions and fellow scientific colleagues, Dr. Smith has proved this algae is an invasive species. The work is vital to ensure proper management of the Bahamas marine environment, a fragile and rapidly changing ecosystem. You can learn more about this research in my previous article.

The SUSiE Chronicles: Catherine Booker and Robert Visit
The SUSiE Chronicles: Catherine Booker and Robert Visit

What sets this study abroad program apart is the intellectual and mental growth of SUSiE Fellows that occurs during and beyond the expeditions. Living and working in close quarters with 11 strangers is challenging. This journey is an opportunity to completely go out of one’s comfort zone, to sacrifice the daily comforts of warm showers and fresh food, and really challenge your mind. In fact, one student shared with me she nearly left after 1 week. Reflecting on this moment, she declared how happy and thankful she was her colleagues supported her during this challenging time. She pushed past the fear and frustration, and finished a stronger, more mature woman.

Additionally, self-reflection is frequently prompted. Fellows are required to journal, answering prompts on how they feel at sunset and then the next morning at sunrise on how their perspectives changed overnight. Fellows must contemplate how humans influence the planet and others around them. They are asked how we can change the world in five minutes, and how their experience shapes their future.

In addition to sharpening intellectual skills, this expedition is a unique opportunity to improve one’s comfort in the ocean. Water skills are developed through various underwater experiments, maintenance in the coral nursery, and underwater data collection. Students must scrape problematic algae off coral nursery arrays with razors. They must use hardware and hammer, drill, and tile saw. They snorkel from sunrise to sunset. They explore random coves for potential monitoring sites. They set up an outdoor lab where thinking outside of the box is required. They are salty the entire duration of the 18-day expedition, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

The SUSiE Chronicles: sailing lecture and practical
The SUSiE Chronicles: sailing lecture and practical

Most work is performed on a Brownie’s third lung hookah system. Hookahs are ideal for this type of science for several reasons. For more about scientific diving via hookah, visit my previous article. Some enter the program without any prior diving experience. In fact several students who had never done SCUBA proclaimed they were anxious to pursue an Open Water license upon return home. By the end of the expedition, each student said the continuous time in the water facilitated a higher confidence in the marine environment, and they now feel better prepared to pursue a career in marine science.

SUSiE expeditions, or Science Under Sail, is an intensely challenging, unique, and fun way to grow both professionally and personally. Not only is this a unique experience to add to one’s resume, it is an opportunity to live, work, and learn alongside an accomplished coral reef expert and scientist. Professional networks are expanded among peers, local scientists working in the Bahamas, and with visiting SEAmbassadors such as myself. Students gain a variety of insights from different mentors in the program and walk away with several new connections to draw from in their future careers. Further, Fellows engage in a lifelong online private mentorship program that keeps them connected as crew and builds their personal exploration towards a professional ocean career path. For a further look into the minds of SUSiE’s alumni, revealing in their own words a desire to go further, checkout SUSiE’s blog series “Exploring Blue”. Professional development is now possible under the surface.

Visit www.scienceundersail.org to learn more.

You can read more, during the course of this week, by clicking here.

Mallory Morgan

Mallory Morgan grew up in the warm Atlantic waters on the east coast of Florida where she worked as an ocean lifeguard, surf instructor, and a manager at a sea turtle hatchery. She first started diving in preparation for a summer internship in Fiji studying marine protected areas and was instantly addicted. Upon graduation from college at Florida State University, Mallory traveled to Australia, and later Bali, where she spent one year earning her PADI Divemaster. She knew this was the perfect career for her, and decided to earn her Instructor rating. She worked as an Instructor in the Catalina Islands of Costa Rica, and then in the cool waters of sunny San Diego, California. Mallory now volunteers as a scientific diver at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography where she recently earned a master’s degree in marine biodiversity and conservation. She currently works at the San Diego Foundation, a community philanthropy organization working to safeguard San Diego from drought, wildfire, sea level rise, increased heat waves, and other climate change impacts.

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