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kelly checks seal in pool
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Kelly Peyton (left) checks one of the harbor seals during husbandry activities at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. Aquarist Kristy Owen is partially visible at right. Photo credit: Mary Anne Alliegro, NEFSC/NOAA.
kelly cleaning the tanks
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Cleaning the Aquarium tanks is one of the duties of summer interns. Photo credit: Mary Anne Alliegro, NEFSC/NOAA.

October 5, 2015
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Meet Kelly Peyton

A first time visitor to Woods Hole, and to Massachusetts, Kelly Peyton is the first in her family to pursue a science career. Her mom runs her own accounting business, and her sister Karyn is a cinema and media studies major at the University of Chicago, but Peyton says they all enjoy science programming and science education. “I have taken many science classes at college, and was a geophysical science major before discovering my love for anthropology.”

She discovered the internship program through the University of Chicago’s Metcalf Internship program. It was a summer of “firsts”: Eating seafood, seeing the Atlantic Ocean, visiting Boston and the New England Aquarium, attending a professional soccer game, and walking thigh deep in a salt marsh were all new experiences.

The summer of 2015 was also totally unlike Peyton’s previous internships and summer jobs. After earning a first-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do at 17, she served as an instructor for several years. During her first two years of college she worked with the Neighborhood Schools Program as a teaching assistant and literacy developer in special needs middle school classrooms on Chicago’s South Side.

This past school year, she served as Education Programs Facilitator at the Oriental Institute, a museum on ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (and home of Indian Jones himself, at least in the books, she notes). At the museum she conducted a simulated archaeological dig with students from preschool through high school, gave tours and history lectures, developed curatorial programs for family audiences, managed exhibits, and served as the Boy Scout archaeology merit badge counselor.

“I never thought I would spend many workdays outside of the aquarium talking to the public on collecting walks, kayaking in Martha’s Vineyard, touring the Whaling Museum – the list goes on!” said Peyton, who describes her greatest strengths as being organized, passionate about learning, determined, and empathetic.

The internship program involved cleaning tanks and preparing fish and seal food. It also involved "creating posters to be exhibited to aquarium visitors, and among my favorite activities, naming incoming animals! It was both a physically and mentally stimulating job, and I loved that I got to spend my summer, unlike most college interns, outside the cubicle and under the sun!”

Peyton found colleagues in the NEFSC’s Social Sciences Branch and worked on the Voices from the Fisheries oral history program with mentor Josh Wrigley. “After delivering my presentation "An Anthropologist Walks into an Aquarium…" to the public, in which I described anthropology as a discipline and orientation to the world, my thesis, and the Voices from the Fisheries Project and explained why I’m in Woods Hole, I was told that my contributions matter and to step boldly into the big science world. I have gained more self confidence and more faith in my own abilities to share what I’ve learned.”

The experience also helped with her studies. She spent time with the Voices from the Fisheries project to work on her bachelor’s degree thesis on the transformations in social attitudes toward whales and the afterlives of whaling on Cape Cod.

Peyton’s mother lived on Cape Cod years ago and told her a bit about the various towns, but living by the water was an experience that she says is still completely foreign to her. “I loved being on the bike path and visiting the beach every other day. I loved experiencing the water, as well as its adorable critters – seals, pipefish, and sea robins included – each day before, during, and after work! This experience has completely transformed my vision of coastal life from one of vague ideals of beachside living to a more complex and informed understanding of the institutions that produce knowledge of the ocean, marine life, and conservation.”

Her least favorite thing about Woods Hole? “That it is dominated by physical sciences. I would love to see a better integration of the humanities, arts, and social sciences among the laboratories around here. Perhaps programs should be more flexible as to which students of certain majors can come here for summer programs. I feel I have thrived here as an anthropologist, and others should be granted that opportunity!”

After she graduates in June 2016, Peyton plans to take a few years off to work for a nonprofit organization, museum, government agency or consulting firm before attending graduate school in anthropology and working her way up to a full professorship. “I love teaching and writing.”

Where will she be in 10 years? “I envision myself with a Ph.D. in an exciting new teaching position at a university, having coffee with one of my students and talking about the anthropology of science.”

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