Study Aboard

By Nate Kahn

There are many opportunities for Whatcom students to continue their learning experience outside of the classroom. From study abroad programs, to interest clubs on campus, students can pursue their educational passions in many different ways.

Whatcom Geology professor Kaatje Kraft and Whatcom student Kat O’Connor embarked on a weeklong oceanography expedition earlier in July. The trip was part of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Student Experiences Aboard Ships (STEMSEAS).
“Essentially STEAMSEAS is a National Science Foundation funded grant” Said Kraft. She explained the grant’s purpose saying that “The National Science Foundation paid for students to be able to go to the boat, all the transportation was covered, there was the crew…and the other research scientists that were on the boat… they gave their time and all of that without necessary any compensation.” Kraft said.katkaatje_stemseas_horizonphoto
STEMSEAS is part of the United States Science Support Program (USSSP), the program arranges trips alongside the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) to give students the experience of the research based scientific explorations.
The ship visits multiple drilling platforms where the group takes part in interactive workshops, pre-drilling research, and an IODP-themed lecture series.
Kraft and O’Connor flew to Morehead City, North Carolina on July 13th “then we went around the Atlantic, around past Florida, then up to Gulfport Mississippi” O’Connor said.
The STEMSEAS group consisted of students from across the nation.
“There was a wide range, on girl was from Oregon, another was from California, one was from Florida but she grew up in Tennessee. There was a gentleman who was going to New York College but he’s from Jamaica. We had a student from Texas, a student from New Mexico.” North Carolina, Massachusetts, Mississippi as well.” O’Connor said.
The majority of students onboard attended junior colleges. These students were studying in order to transfer to a four-year institution. “There was representation across the country, it was primarily students from two-year colleges… We had a large contingency from community colleges.”
Kraft explained that the members of the STEMSEAS program were all science scholars; however, there was a variety of scientific interests. “Certainly all within the sciences, but a broad range within that” Kraft said. From geology, oceanography, and environmental science, the interests of students on board were comprised of many different focuses.
Kraft and O’Connor analyzed core samples from the ocean floor and studied the scientific history of the layer of earth.
“The best part for me was the core, it was the first time I’d actually been able to work with a core sample.” O’Connor said. “There was one layer that turned out to be volcanic glass… that showed a timeline of there being a volcanic eruption.”
The experience that Kraft and O’Connor took part in was made possible by the support from the STEMSEAS grant. According to the STEMSEAS website
“USSSP coordinates and funds the travel of expedition participants to and from the drilling platform and also supports their travel as necessary to pre- and post-expedition meetings for planning, sampling, and coordination of research results.”
Kraft and O’Connor encountered difficulty with adapting to the movements of the vessel; however, their sea legs were in full force by the second day. The pair of researchers said waking up every morning to beautiful sunrises and ending their long day of scientific discoveries with gleaming sunsets made seasickness irrelevant. The STEMSEAS trips occur three times a year, the application process is available on their website.

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