White Paper Title: 
Research Opportunities and Educational Outreach Activities for Non-Traditional Groups

Nancy H. Akerman1, Allison Beauregard Schwartz2, Julie A. Huber1

1 Josephine Bay Paul Center for Comparative Molecular Biology and Evolution, Marine Biological Laboratory, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543 (nakerman@mbl.edu, jhuber@mbl.edu)
2 Mattie Kelly Environmental Institute, Northwest Florida State College, 100 College Boulevard, Niceville, FL 32578 (beaurega@nwfstatecollege.edu)

Deep-sea research is expensive and difficult to pursue, and therefore is mainly only accessible to those involved with grants for such research.  However, exciting images of deep-sea vents and their associated life forms can spark interest in many audiences.  Providing opportunities to non-traditional groups, such as students from non-research institutions like community colleges, to be involved in deep-sea research and to meet scientists engaged in such research can be exciting and rewarding for all involved.

An example of a unique educational outreach effort was conducted this summer, when Dr. Julie Huber of the Marine Biological Laboratory hosted two summer undergraduate interns chosen from Northwest Florida State College in Fort Walton, FL (NWFSC, formerly Okaloosa-Walton Community College).  This collaboration grew out of the 2008 Ridge 2000 Distinguished Lecturer Series, during which Dr. Huber was hosted at NWFSC by Dr. Allison Beauregard Schwartz.  As part of the visit, Huber met with undergraduates from Beauregard Schwartz’s Oceanography class, followed by an evening public lecture to ~350 people, representing students, faculty, and members of the Niceville community.  Both Huber and Beauregard Schwartz felt the visit was an extremely valuable experience, and led to the inclusion of Beauregard Schwartz and the internship/curriculum program into Huber’s NSF research grant to Biological Oceanography.  The internship experience allowed for one-on-one mentoring opportunities in Huber’s laboratory between research institute personnel and community college students, a group that is traditionally far removed from research science.  The interns worked in our laboratory for 10 weeks, learning skills that included anaerobic culturing, phase contrast and fluorescence microscopy, DNA extraction, molecular cloning, PCR, and DNA sequencing and analysis.  They each isolated and analyzed a microorganism originally collected from deep-sea hydrothermal vents on a research cruise to NW Rota.  They concluded their experience by giving a talk on their summer research to other summer students, and they and Huber will also give talks about their research experience at their home college.  In addition, Huber and Beauregard Schwartz are developing curricula on environmental microbiology and deep-sea science, two topics not commonly covered in community college courses, which will be taught in several colleges.  Next summer, Huber’s lab will sponsor two more students from NWFSC, and the summer students may even have the opportunity to participate in a research cruise.  This internship and teaching partnership can serve as a model program for collaborations between other education-focused institutes and research institutes.  

At the meeting, I look forward to sharing my experiences from the MBL-NWFSC collaboration, discussing ideas for bringing deep-sea science to a wider and less traditional audience, getting involved in the outreach programs that are currently running, and organizing more outreach opportunities.