Universities work to diversify ocean science through summer internships

An exclusive summer internship came to a close Friday with students presenting what they learned during a research symposium at USM in Ocean Springs.
Published: Aug. 4, 2023 at 6:42 PM CDT
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OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. (WLOX) - An exclusive summer internship came to a close Friday with students presenting what they learned during a research symposium at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in Ocean Springs.

Ten students participated in the third annual Ocean Explorer Internship Program: Kimberly Henderson, Peyton Lockett, Dheaven Angeletti, Jasmine Rodriguez, Imani Jones, Guadalupe Zapata, Koby Bush, Madya Watson, Makya Coleman and Kristopher Burke.

“They’ve gone all over the country to work with so many different people, and they’ve just – I’m learning so much from them,” USM’s Dr. Jessie Kastler said during the presentation period.

All the students are from historically black colleges like Jackson State University (JSU) in Jackson and Tuskegee University in Alabama.

A major purpose of the 10-week program is to help expose minority students to the oceanic industry, which experts say could use more cultural variety.

“Our part is to work towards achieving NOAA’s mission of diversifying its workforce,” Kastler said.

Through the partnership program with USM, each student was sent to conduct deep ocean research across areas of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and Ocean Springs.

“My experience was illustrious,” Lockett from JSU said. “I was in a new environment, gaining new knowledge and experiences, working along with marine species. For those who believe they feel in doubt, I want to relay this message: Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young.”

Intern Coleman was assigned to map the sea floor of the Gulf aboard USM’s research vessel Point Sur.

“Basically, she tried to build a very detailed map of a portion of the gulf,” Dr. Leonardo Macelloni said.

Macelloni is a USM professor and marine geophysicist who served as Coleman’s mentor and their crew’s chief scientist.

They were at sea together for about 15 days.

“Unfortunately, ocean science is not really diverse,” he said. “Before this program, I never had the chance to work with an African American, and I have been teaching for 20 years.”

Student Angeletti was assigned to investigate bacteria interactions, including the impact of temperature on phytoplankton.

“This is all new to me,” she told WLOX. “Phytoplankton is not my field. I’m an animal scientist. I work with land animals. So, diving deep into this new principle is really exciting.”

Like Angeletti, Dr. Ramble Ankumah with Tuskegee University said many of the students who participated in the program researched topics they had never-before explored.

“It goes to prove the fact that if given the opportunity, these students can rise to it, and also do very well,” he said.

The collaboration between Tuskegee University and USM took shape virtually during the pandemic and was based on the mutual goal of expanding horizons.

“Representation in all aspects of life is very critical for enrichment,” Ankumah said.

The Ocean Explorer Research Program is funded by the NOAA Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute (OECI).

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