The value of hands-on learning outside of a conventional classroom is changing the career goals for College of Southern Maryland (CSM) student Shannon Roberts, 48, of Port Republic.
Roberts, who is working toward an associate degree in Pre-Professional Health Science with a concentration in physical therapy at CSM, was one of five students at the college selected for a 12-week internship at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s (UMCES) Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL) in Solomons.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect from this experience,” Roberts said. “I was surprised by the sheer volume of research being done in our local area, and by the opportunities for community involvement in data collection, particularly in the Chesapeake DolphinWatch program. My favorite part has been being allowed hands-on experience with the underwater microphones and, of course, getting to see and hear the dolphins through the recordings, photos and videos collected.”
Roberts’ internship is part of CBL’s and CSM’s joint Environmental Education Community College Collaboration (E2C3). The E2C3 internships are designed to give qualifying community college students interested in pursuing environmentally based STEM careers the opportunity to work in a premier research setting. In addition to gaining experience and networking opportunities, the interns also receive a stipend for their work at CBL.
“E2C3 internships provide a valuable opportunity for CSM students to gain hands-on professional research experience early in their degree programs,” said CBL Assistant Research Professor Dr. Geneviève Nesslage, a mentor for a CSM intern.
“The program allows students to explore career options in environmental science that they might not otherwise have exposure to, including fisheries, ecology and environmental chemistry,” Nesslage said. “The program also allows CSM students to work with graduate students, get a better idea of what graduate school entails, and get a feel for what a career in environmental science research would be like on a day-to-day basis.”
CBL’s commitment to increasing diversity, inclusivity and equity informs its programming to deliberately impact today’s students and tomorrow’s scientists.
“Through purposeful outreach via the E2C3 program,” says CBL Director Dr. Tom Miller, “we believe in the positive impact of educating new scientists from all walks of life to research, understand and manage the world’s resources. UMCES believes including these voices and intellects will yield a more creative, complete approach to environmental management and build infrastructure that impact the entire populace.”
CBL launched the E2C3 program to encourage diversity in STEM fields, which traditionally have had minimal participation from minorities and women, by making paid research internships available to community college students. Ethnic minorities comprise just 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce. Within environmentally impactful organizations, less than 12 percent serve in leadership positions. Women hold only 24 percent of STEM jobs, and leadership remains 90 percent male in the highest echelons of conservation, preservation and environmental organizations.
Community colleges, like CSM, offer excellent flexibility, lower tuition cost and minimal commuting, making them a top education choice for the most diverse populations in the country. As CSM strives to offer excellent coursework as well as a range of professional experiences to its students, the CSM/CBL partnership is a valuable one for both entities.
During her E2C3 internship, Roberts, working with her mentor CBL Associate Research Professor Dr. Helen Bailey, has been training to help analyze data collected from underwater microphones, learning how to deploy and collect the recording devices on the research pier, sorting and saving photos and videos of dolphin sightings, as well as helping maintain equipment in the lab.
Upon earning her associate degree at CSM, Roberts said she plans to continue her education to pursue a bachelor’s degree. “I want to be in science- or biology-based career where I can make a difference,” she said. Her CBL internship experience helped to direct her future career focus, she said, as she is now considering work in environmental science or microbiology because she has learned more about both the focus of CBL’s research and the business side of this kind of work.
“There are higher numbers of dolphins showing up in the waters in our area,” she said. “The data collected from these dolphins can be used to the benefit of many other researchers and studies besides our local programs.”
In addition, Roberts has learned that “funding is extremely important to research programs,” she said.
Fellow CSM student Amanda Colee, 21, of Lusby, also participated in the E2C3 internship. Colee has already earned her associate degree and returned to CSM to earn a nursing degree. Colee is working toward becoming a registered nurse in an emergency room or sports medicine.
“I think it’s a great idea to have experience in all fields of work,” Colee said of why she applied for the internship.
While the experience hasn’t altered her former education and career goals, Colee said she would enthusiastically recommend the internship program to others.
“I would recommend this internship to any CSM student, regardless of their major,” Colee said. “I think it’s important to have experience in different settings so you can rule out what you want to do, or be inspired by other’s work.”
Located where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory is the oldest publicly supported marine laboratory on the East Coast. Founded in 1925, it has been a national leader in fisheries, estuarine ecology, environmental chemistry and toxicology for more than 90 years. Today, as a part of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, its scientists conduct research from the Chesapeake Bay and around the globe. From advising state and national agencies on sustainable fisheries management and breaking new ground in understanding how chemicals move between the atmosphere, sediments, and water to renowned work on nutrient dynamics and the food web, the lab is developing new scientific approaches to solving the major environmental problems that face our world.
Applications are currently being accepted for the Spring 2020 E2C3 internships. CSM students can apply for an E2C3 internship online at https://www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/pathways/stem/e2c3.
For more information about the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory and the E2C3 internship, visit https://www.umces.edu/environmental-education-community-college-collaboration-0.
For more on CSM’s STEM pathways and educational opportunities, visit www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/pathways/stem/.