MARACOOS interns Emily Patrolia, Bryan Stephan and Abigail Barber at Capitol Hill Ocean Week in June.

UD Interns: Broadening horizons

UD students gain exposure to ocean policy as MARACOOS interns

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(Editor's note: UD Interns is an occasional series that looks at enriching internship opportunities enjoyed by University of Delaware students, and provided by UD to students from other institutions.)

10:24 a.m., Sept. 13, 2012--When University of Delaware junior Abigail Barber donned a plush shark costume this summer, she was not playing a character at a baseball game or an amusement park. She was participating in Capitol Hill Ocean Week in Washington, D.C., and she got to meet ocean experts like National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle as part of the experience. 

“It was really fun,” Barber said. “I got to walk around the Smithsonian and interact with kids.”

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Barber, an energy and environmental policy major, is gaining exposure to the marine science community as an intern with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS). The UD-led network aggregates ocean data collected along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina to share with researchers, government personnel and the public and to create information products that address ocean and coastal challenges.

Along with College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE) undergraduates Emily Patrolia and Bryan Stephan, Barber is interning with MARACOOS to see how classroom concepts are used in real-world applications and explore future career paths.

The interns accompanied MARACOOS director and UD alumnus Gerhard Kuska to Capitol Hill Ocean Week in June, listening to presentations covering a variety of current issues like ocean acidification and climate change. They rubbed elbows with leaders in the field at networking functions and met staffers that draft ocean-related legislation. On the last day, they agreed to put on the shark costume for a fun few hours as volunteers to engage children in marine science.

“I spent a lot of time in D.C. as a student, and I know how important it is for our next generation of ocean leaders to understand how the real world of ocean science, management policy and politics works in order to get things done,” Kuska said. “I had that chance and want to give as many interested students as possible that same chance.”

Back at MARACOOS in Newark, the interns work on various projects to support the organization’s operations. They are updating a database of email addresses to communicate with 4,000 stakeholders and preparing an information booth for an upcoming conference. Barber is helping implement audience-appropriate social media outreach through Facebook and Twitter.

The students hope to facilitate public understanding of science, especially in promoting sound environmental policy. Patrolia said she enjoys learning how MARACOOS works both with Washington and researchers.

“I’ve always said that I want to work between the scientists and the politicians,” Patrolia said. “I didn’t realize there are organizations that do that.”

The students connected with the internship opportunity after taking classes with Professor of Marine Biosciences Carolyn Thoroughgood, who serves as chair of the board of directors at MARACOOS. Thoroughgood, the former dean of CEOE, said the interns are helping reach their peers while also learning about different aspects of ocean issues. She hopes to steer them toward finding their roles in the field.

“I enjoy mentoring students, especially when they are so eager to learn,” Thoroughgood said. “They take in information like sponges.”

The students plan to continue their internships through the rest of their academic careers at UD, with Kuska and Thoroughgood mentoring them along the way. Stephan, who is beginning his senior year, said he is still deciding on a career for after graduation but has found the interdisciplinary nature of his environmental studies major appealing.

“It combines a little science, a little policy, a little history and a little economics to kind of get a mix of everything,” Stephan said. 

Article by Teresa Messmore

Photos courtesy Abigail Barber and by Evan Krape

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