Friday, April 17, 2015

Maine Maritime and Coastal Studies for Girls

Maine has some pretty amazing educational institutions, and this past week I got to hang out with folks from two of them.  Maine Maritime in Castine is one of the most incredible colleges around -- where students focus on practical experience and leave with hundreds of companies (and the military) clamoring to hire them.  And Coastal Studies for Girls, a young program focusing on semester-long residential learning for high school girls, is an up-and-coming place.

Put the two together and what do you get?  Lots of energy, lots of competence, and lots of exploring.

I'm working with Kerry Whitakker this semester, and she spends half her time at Bowdoin and half at CSG.  She's also a great biological oceanographer and educator, and tolerates my nosiness.  So I just wangled an invite to go up with CSG on their field trip to MMA.  MMA is actively working to recruit more women, so this is a natural fit for them.  The first day the girls got to spend time in the "bridge simulators" -- where they "drive" tugboats, tankers, and other boats through computer simulations. They also visited the amazing planetarium.  Then, on the second day, they hit the water.

A tugboat bridge simulator.  Those "windows" are all separate flat screens, but they work together to make it look like you're moving.  I actually started to get queasy!  Students work on simulations testing their boat-handling skills in all sorts of situations.  Apparently the CSG students had their skills tested in rough seas and calm, and only a few of them crashed!
It wasn't exactly the nicest day to be on the water, but the wind was minimal, so it didn't seem that bad.  We pulled on our rain gear, layered in a bunch of clothes, and boarded.  The girls went out on two boats; each for an hour.  The research vessel collected plankton samples using a plankton net tow and a rosette water sampler, and water chemistry parameters were collected using a CTD -- depth, temp, salinity, etc.  We got a lot of interesting samples and they learned a lot about research methods:

The R/V Friendship is MMA's research vessel.

Kerry Whitakker explains how the water sampling will work.

Captain Zander uses the A frame to deploy the sampling equipment. 

Resting a bit.
The navigation vessel blew me away.  This 70 foot boat is specially equipped with a large wheel house that has multiple navigation stations -- each with a chart table, GPS, and radar.  MMA students use it to plot courses and learn how to get from point A to point B.  What an amazing boat!  Luckily it was a bit foggy so we could really see the usefulness of radar.

Each station has everything you need to navigate.

The girls got to drive, under the direction of an MMA student.
One of the best parts of this trip was watching the MMA students interact with us.  Both boats had an instructor (and captain) from MMA, but they were piloted by students.  Each was exceptionally mature and competent.  As one of the captains told me, "Our students go out for their practical experiences each summer, and when they come back, we can treat them more as peers and students." I could see this was true.

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