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PEP logo with wave, names of six institutions below

The PEP logo, with the names of the six participating science institutions in Woods Hole.

group of 2016 PEP students

2016 PEP students celebrate August 12 after their public presentations and graduation ceremony at the Sea Education Association. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Shelley Dawicki, NEFSC

PEP students help hoist sails on sailboat at Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center

One of the many activities offered during the summer internship was a trip to the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester and a visit to the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Megan Natti

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October 17, 2016
Contact: Shelley Dawicki
Print Version

Summer Diversity Program Offers New Perspective on Career Opportunities

They came from South Carolina, Texas, Maryland, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Oregon, California, Florida, Delaware, and Washington, DC. They didn’t know each other, most had never heard of Woods Hole before, and they had no idea what to expect during their 10-week stay.

But after a summer in the village of Woods Hole, taking a course featuring marine and environmental sciences and policy, conducting research, and participating in a variety of activities, they all have a much different perspective of the place and the community. And they have a better idea of their path forward and what they want to do in their career.

They were the 15 participants in the 2016 Woods Hole Partnership Education Program (PEP), a summer internship program aimed at college juniors and seniors who have had some course work in marine and/or environmental sciences. All were recruited from minority groups that are under-represented in marine and environmental sciences for PEP, a project supported by the six science institutions in Woods Hole in an effort to increase diversity and inclusion in the scientific community. 

Students start with a four-week course in June on global climate change featuring components in geology, physical oceanography, policy and resource management as well as biology, chemistry and other marine and environmental sciences. For some, these topics are totally new.

In July, they begin six to eight weeks of work on a research project under a mentor from one of the six scientific institutions in the village. At the end of the internship in August, each student gives a public presentation about their project and receives four college credits from the program’s academic partner, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

“The hands-on learning and field work I had done in the course helped me understand the material better. I loved the field trips, and the research,” said Mia Infante, a senior majoring in environmental sciences at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. “I also learned I don’t have to have my whole career planned out, just seek opportunities and take them, and everything will fall into place. PEP has allowed me to achieve my goal to find my calling and to be pushed out of my comfort zone.”

Since the first year of the program in 2009, PEP has attracted 122 students from 77 public and private colleges and universities in all geographic areas of the United States. Many have gone on to graduate school, participated in other programs offered by PEP institutions, or found employment in the marine and environmental sciences field, including positions at Woods Hole science institutions.

This year’s PEP student coordinator, Adrienne George, was a member of the first PEP class in 2009. She will finish her Ph.D. in biological oceanography in December at the University of South Florida.

George coordinated the daily PEP activities with students and mentors this summer, taking over from Onjale Scott, who had served in the position the previous five summers and is now working full-time as the Geoscience Programs Coordinator at the NOAA Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center (LMRCSC) at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

New experiences, personal growth

Most learn about PEP through college faculty members or academic advisors, online through searches for summer internships, or by word of mouth and networking, especially at conferences. The program provides housing, a food allowance, a stipend, and much more.  

In addition to learning about marine and environmental sciences and conducting research, PEP students discover the range of career opportunities that lie ahead through seminars and social events. They also learn about each other and share new experiences, from cooking for each other and living together in Sea Education Association housing to going on a whale watch, visiting Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, to attending the Mashpee Wampanoag’s annual Pow Wow. Some learn to sail, or ride a bike for the first time in years.

Emily Neel, a junior environmental studies major at Wellesley College, worked in a salt marsh for her research project. “I had never seen or stepped foot in a salt marsh before this summer,” she said of the experience. “I really like how the course and my research reaffirmed that what I am learning in my labs and courses in college can be applied to a broader or different location.”

Breaun Meeks, a junior biology major at Bowie State University in Maryland, went whale watching for the first time this summer and learned to cook and grocery shop for his housemates. “I have met some awesome people here, and I have learned a lot about myself while being away from home.” His advice for anyone thinking about applying to the program: “Do not be afraid to try new things, and do not limit yourself.”

PEP students interact with scientists and students and attend events and social activities at all of the scientific institutions during the summer. They also participate in informal summer sports like soccer, softball and basketball. Going to nearby beaches and riding on the bike path are favorite activities, but all students consider their research experiences - and the mentoring involved in helping them look ahead to their futures in science - the highlights of their programs.

Partnerships, personal commitments are key

“We have a great working partnership between the six Woods Hole science institutions and our extramural partner, UMES,” said PEP founder and director Ambrose Jearld, a fisheries biologist and director of academic programs at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. “After 8 years, I am honored by the commitment from NOAA Fisheries and the NEFSC to sustain funding for PEP for the next five years. That demonstrates that PEP is a model of inclusion in increasing the participation of individuals from diverse cultures and populations underrepresented in marine and environmental fields. ”

“The scientific community also continues to show its commitment to PEP,” Jearld said. “A number of research mentors and potential mentors collaborated with us recently on funding proposals to broaden participation criteria so they can support one of more PEP students in their research programs. As I retire from PEP and NOAA Fisheries, I could not be more pleased with and proud of the experience, knowledge and best practices of everyone associated with the success of PEP and recognize their personal commitment to make the small village of Woods Hole a diverse, inclusive and welcoming place where big science takes place.”

Other PEP staff members include: George Liles, curator of NOAA’s Woods Hole Science Aquarium, who serves as PEP manager and participates in the program by offering the students a writing seminar; Adrienne George, who served as PEP coordinator this summer; and Ben Gutierrez of the U.S. Geological Survey, who recruits instructors and organizes the PEP course, which includes lectures and assignments on a wide range of marine and environmental science topics, as well as career development workshops. Ben Harden of the Sea Education Association also provided assistance with the course this year.

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