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Increasing Ocean Sciences Education in Community Colleges
By Coral Gehrke and Jan Hodder

Melissa Kilgore, an instructor at Linn-Benton and Lane Community Colleges, works on a lab that demonstrates how differences in water density cause vertical stratification in the ocean. Credit: Maya Wolf

One of COSEE-Pacific Partnerships’ (COSEE-PP) main goals is to integrate marine research and education for community college faculty and students, two audiences that historically have been underserved by the ocean sciences community. Over the past two years, COSEE-PP has worked to develop professional development programs that connect community college faculty with scientists at marine stations in Oregon, Washington, California, and Hawai’i. Our goals are to promote ocean literacy and marine science education at community colleges and to develop program models that could be implemented by other marine stations and COSEE centers.

Community College Needs Assessment

In early 2008, we began our partnership with the Oregon and Washington community colleges by learning more about who they are and what they currently do with regards to marine science, as well as what more they would like to do. COSEE-PP Director Jan Hodder and Coordinator Coral Gehrke conducted a needs assessment with approximately 75 science faculty and administrators from 21 community colleges through face-to-face meetings held at the colleges and participation of COSEE-PP in the Northwest Biology Instructors' Organization (NWBIO) annual meeting. The NWBIO meeting attracts science faculty, primarily biology and environmental science instructors, from community colleges in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia.

The meetings were overwhelmingly positive and, surprisingly, each had similar outcomes. We learned that faculty are interested in increasing the amount of current ocean science in their courses and in partnering with scientists and marine stations. We also learned that they have very limited time to develop new teaching materials during the school year due to their heavy teaching loads and, as a result, a variety of shorter professional development opportunities ranging from day-long workshops during the school year to one- to two-week institutes during the summer are ideal. Faculty are interested in adding marine sciences to both lab and lecture sessions and many are interested in opportunities to get their students involved with real data collection that will be used by a scientist. The ocean sciences topics that were of most interest were organized around habitats and ecology, oceanography (physical, chemical, biological, and geological), organismal biology, and marine environmental issues. Over the past year, we have used the results of the needs assessment to guide the development of several professional development opportunities described below.

Community college faculty examine vertical zonation patterns in a sand influenced rocky intertidal at the 2009 NWBIO workshop. Credit: Coral Gehrke

Pacific Northwest Rocky Shore Biology Workshop and Field Trip at NWBIO 2009

COSEE-PP offered its first day-long workshop for community college faculty in conjunction with NWBIO in May 2009. The meeting was held at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Oregon; we took advantage of the proximity of the rocky shore at Oswald West State Park to conduct a field experience for 15 community college faculty. Dr. Cynthia Trowbridge, a marine ecologist from the Zoology Department of Oregon State University, led the workshop and developed the activities and accompanying materials that would be suitable for use in an introductory biology or a marine biology course. The workshop began with an overview of rocky shore ecology and continued with a field exercise designed to document zonation patterns in the intertidal.

COSEE-PP provided the participants with electronic and hard copies of all the materials developed for the workshop, which included an introductory PowerPoint, field guides to algae and animals, the field exercise directions, data sheets, and directions for the interpretation of the results. These materials are available for download at our newly added ccommunity college curriculum section on the COSEE-PP website.

Community College Faculty Institute: Marine Biology

Institute participants compare species diversity and abundance measured on the tops and bottoms of boulders in the intertidal during the Rocky Shores day. Credit: Coral Gehrk

The needs assessment also guided our plans to develop a series of week-long residential summer workshops for community college faculty that would be hosted by COSEE-PP’s marine station partners and would draw on the expertise of the permanent and visiting scientists at each site. The first Community College Faculty Institute: Marine Biology was held this summer at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB) with 11 participants from colleges in Oregon and Washington and seven scientists who led the instruction.

COSEE-PP provided the participants with electronic and hard copies of all the materials developed for the workshop, which included an introductory PowerPoint, field guides to algae and animals, the field exercise directions, data sheets, and directions for the interpretation of the results. These materials are available for download at our newly added community college curriculum section on the COSEE-PP website.

COSEE-PP provided each participant with a flash drive that contained all the presentations, lab and field activities, and resources provided during the institute. These materials will be made available on our curriculum web page in the next few months. Additional information about the institute and participating scientists can be found on our website.

COSEE-PP will be supporting the integration of the material from the workshop into community college classes in several ways, including the use of a listserv and additional meetings of the participants at the NWBIO and Oregon Academy of Science meetings in 2010. A 2010 summer faculty institute focusing on oceanography is planned.

Intern Sea-oh McConville shows her tank experiments investigating the interactions between macroalgae and eelgrass to other interns during the PRIME 2009 Newport Exchange Day. Credit: Sada Huynh

Promoting Research Investigations in the Marine Environment

Community colleges have become an important pathway for students intending to complete a baccalaureate degree. However, students at these institutions have few opportunities to engage in science research experiences and even fewer opportunities in ocean sciences. To address this need, we piloted the eight-week Promoting Research Investigations in the Marine Environment (PRIME) program with four students and two faculty from community colleges in Oregon during summer 2008.

PRIME participants developed research, communication, and outreach skills through hands-on experiences working with scientists and informal educators at OIMB, the Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The participants lived at the two marine stations for the summer and spent 35-40 hours per week conducting lab, field, and/or site work; working on weekly journal assignments; attending seminars; and participating in other marine lab and PRIME program activities. These activities were developed to expose participants to the broad spectrum of research and educational activities that take place at marine laboratories and informal science education institutions. At the conclusion of the program, each intern gave a final project presentation at the PRIME symposium.

PRIME 2009 intern Jacob Evans and mentor Dr. Steve Rumrill set up a flow through tank experiment to examine the hydrodynamics of Olympia oyster clusters. Credit: Sada Huynh

Through participation in PRIME, the student interns increased their understanding of the process of science and how research is conducted and applied, increased their understanding of marine science content, gained professional skills in communicating science effectively, and increased their awareness of the availability of ocean careers while learning skills to help them pursue these careers.

Based on the success of the 2008 student program, we expanded the PRIME 2009 summer program to include two internships at the Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes, Washington in addition to the four opportunities at OIMB, HMSC, South Slough, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. We will continue to offer these experiences each summer and plan to expand the program to include internships at our partner organizations in Hawai’i and California. To learn more about our interns’ projects, please visit the PRIME 2008 and PRIME 2009 pages on our website.

Using Existing Marine Station Resources to Engage Community College Faculty

Although the two PRIME 2008 community college faculty participants had a productive experience, conversations with them during the eight-week period and the summative evaluation indicated that this type of intense focused research experience was not what they were “looking for” as a means to expand their marine science knowledge base. The summary from the evaluation report concludes, “This limited experience points to the need to review the approach to providing faculty a more rewarding professional development experience.”

With this in mind, we looked at the various kinds of activities – courses, seminar series, and research opportunities – that already exist at many marine stations that could benefit community college faculty by allowing them to interact with scientists and gain additional marine science information. This summer COSEE-PP sponsored a community college instructor to attend the Marine Field Studies: Coastal Biology course taught at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. This intensive, two-week field-oriented course provides an overview of the physical and biological features of the major coastal habitats in Oregon, including rocky shores, sandy beaches, dunes, estuaries, headlands, and forests. Students study the important species in each habitat, exploring the ecological significance of those species, and the adaptations to the environment in which they live.

April Ann Fong, an instructor at Portland Community College, shows off the Winogradsky column she made during the Ocean Bacteria session. Credit: Maya Wolf

Lessons Learned About Working with Community College Faculty and Students

To date we have learned several things about providing professional development opportunities to community college faculty and students that may assist others in developing these types of programs. It was essential to meet community college faculty and administrators to learn what their needs were. It has also been important to start to build a community of faculty who are knowledgeable about the goals of COSEE-PP and who are keen to participate in helping us develop appropriate professional development opportunities.

Learning about other organizations that support community college faculty has also been useful. We have used the gathering of faculty at the NWBIO meetings as a way to continue to interact with faculty, and as a venue to provide professional development opportunities. In addition, our connections with the Oregon-based NSF-ATE funded Northwest Center for Sustainable Resources (NCSR), which has offered week-long institutes for community college faculty since 1995, provided us with guidance in developing our faculty institutes.

The direct contacts we have made with the community college faculty have also been essential in the recruitment of students for the PRIME program. Most of the students applying for PRIME internships in the past two summers did so because they were encouraged to apply by instructors we met with either during the initial face-to-face faculty meetings or the NWBIO. The 2009 PRIME interns will also be important in future recruitment of interns as they plan to present about their experience to their peers at the community colleges this fall.

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