Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has been engaging students in science for more than 35 years. Through a long-term partnership with Hiram College in northeast Ohio, students in an intensive 18-day Marine Ecology course have the opportunity to learn about Florida’s coastal environment by studying it firsthand.
Professor Dennis Taylor, Hiram’s “Igniting Streams of Learning in Science” co-director, established a partnership with Rookery Bay Reserve through an invitation from Pat O’Donnell, the reserve’s fisheries biologist and Hiram alumnus. Taylor has been taking his marine biology students to conduct their research at the reserve since 2003.
According to Taylor, these research projects provide opportunities for students to manage experimental designs, giving them vital experience navigating the difficulties associated with gathering robust data sets in the field.
Hiram students participate in the reserve’s long-term shark, bony fish and invertebrate monitoring surveys, providing experience that cannot be found in textbooks. In addition, the students have created, and continue to direct, their own ongoing surveys in the reserve on shorebirds, mangroves and barrier island plants. The students have the opportunity to interact with scientists on many levels, becoming peers in scientific investigations of public importance.
Rookery Bay Reserve also benefits from this work. In addition to the extra help with ongoing monitoring programs, the students provide valuable research data, which has the potential to highlight issues that may not have been identified by reserve staff.
“Programs like this not only help inform us on a wider variety of resource issues, but they also engage and entice students who may not have considered a career in science before their experience here,” said Pat O’Donnell, Rookery Bay Reserve’s fisheries biologist.