October 18, 2017
Over the past 4+ years, I’ve learned that if nothing else, working on your PhD will take you to some unexpected places. This summer, it was a drillship. For a geoscience education workshop. For three weeks.
Almost every year the International Oceanic Discovery Program (IODP) holds a workshop called School of Rock for K-12 educators, often aboard the JOIDES Resolution (aka “the JR”), a 143 meter-long research vessel adorned with a 62 meter-tall derrick. The JR’s primary purpose is to obtain oceanic drill cores for scientists interested in anything from ancient dust preserved in clays to the extinction of the dinosaurs. However several years ago, the ever-resourceful IODP outreach coordinators decided that in between legs — when the JR is just sitting idle at a port, or traveling between drilling expedition locations — they could bring teachers onboard and give them a once-in-a-lifetime experience. During the School of Rock(s), teachers have the opportunity to get hands-on experience in the state-of-the-art JR analytical facilities, and learn about the earth sciences from instructors (typically geoscience professors from around the country) who have done research aboard the JR. Teachers work together during the workshop to create engaging classroom activities they can then bring back to their students.
This year’s School of Rock was — luckily for me — a bit different. It was a special hybrid workshop entitled, “Expanding The Geoscience Pipeline By Connecting Educators With Early Career IODP Scientists.” For the first time, the instructors invited participants to apply in pairs, so that lasting partnerships could be developed between scientists and educators living in the same geographic area. This opportunity came at the perfect point in my career because just last year, I was partnered with an awesome Austin-area AP Environmental Science teacher named Colleen Henegan through the UT Environmental Science Institutes Scientist-in-Residence program. (As an aside, I highly recommend this program to any UT STEM grad students interested in learning about K-12 education. Talk to Jay Banner.) This workshop was also unique by School of Rock standards because it was really long (3 weeks), due to it being held during the ship’s transit from the Philippines to Australia.
We only found out about this opportunity a week before the deadline, but we scrambled and got our stuff together and applied, and obviously were selected! (This would have been a sad post that ended right here if we hadn’t been selected.) Along with us, about 12 other people were chosen to participate, including K-12 science teachers, community college professors, and R1 assistant professors. The instructors were amazing as well; they were professional geoscientists (both outreach professionals and professors who worked at R1 and undergrad-only institutions) who had all participated in scientific expeditions throughout their careers. I can honestly say that I loved every single person who was on this cruise. Three weeks aboard a boat can make even the best person seem annoying, so I didn’t always feel the love, but it was truly amazing to be surrounded by people as excited as I was about teaching, diversity, science, and outreach.
Every day we had a crash course in some topic in the morning (Introduction to Oceanography! Introduction to Structural Geology!), and the afternoons were often spend sampling cores, making smear slides and Foram (foraminifera) mounts. The teachers especially were excited to get these slides, as they were able to take home what they made and use it in classroom lessons. We would then spend the nights brainstorming fun things like how can we promote science literacy or diversity in STEM, what are the obstacles to achieving these goals based on our various perspectives.
I’m not going to bore you with super-specific details of what we did every day. Just know that we did them, and it was fun, but sometimes tiring, but mostly really fun and inspiring. And if my advisor asks, tell her I was really busy and it was grueling work that was worth missing 3 weeks of research for 😉
When I think about what I got from going on this trip (“was it worth it?”), I mostly think about how inspired I was throughout School of Rock. I met so many people doing amazing things in their communities, and I want to be just like them. I also think about the food on board (shockingly good), the piracy drill, 3 weeks of ocean sunsets, and stargazing in the pitch-black with my new friends.
I also think about this Koala I got to hold when we finally arrived in Australia. It was just OK though, I wasn’t even that excited about it. See for yourself:
Ok, one more: