Honors Students Explore Humankind’s Interaction with the Ocean in New Course

David Melendez Spotlight

Recently, two groups of FIU Honors College students had the opportunity to embark on voyages on research vessels. Students of the Honoring the Ocean: Sustainability and the Sea course had the privilege of sailing on the Weatherbird II for a journey out of St. Petersburg, or on the R/V Hogarth to sail out of the Florida Keys. The Honoring the Ocean course blends an informative online course with field experience. The online portion of the course prepared students for an adventure at sea onboard FIO’s research vessels. The program targets students from a broad spectrum of backgrounds; no experience in marine science is required. This program was designed to foster collaboration among students and faculty from different fields. By working together, students explored interdisciplinary approaches to addressing critical issues facing Florida’s coastlines and oceans.

Aboard the research vessels, students participated in activities that helped them learn more about the ocean. Students collected water samples at different sea levels. This process helped provide information about the conditions of the water. Students also collected live organisms. The relatively shallow depth of the Gulf of Mexico allowed students to use a large net to examine various creatures living within the ocean. Students also used a remotely operated underwater vehicle to visualize the gulf’s depths better. The ROV used cameras to reveal the creatures living in the seabed. A sea turtle was seen swimming toward the ROV and interacting with it as well as a pod of dolphins was spotted near the research vessel.  

Honors student Javonte Thelwell created a mini-documentary of his experience aboard the Research Vessel (R/V) Weatherbird II that you can watch here. When asked about the voyage, Thelwell stated: “This trip means a lot to me because I was extremely interested in oceanography research but never got the opportunity to be a part of that environment. Additionally, I love the ocean and am super fascinated about all the amazing marine life and all that we can learn hands-on.” Gretchen Scharnagl, an artist and Honors College faculty fellow led the group of FIU Honors students in this course. “The most important lessons of this ‘real-life experience’ were the power of the ocean, the changing states of the weather, and the physics and physicality of boarding, living, and working in and on a working research vessel in the Atlantic Ocean is humbling and awe-inspiring, but results in an understanding of the value of safety rules and the captain’s authority, awareness of space and resources, equity and humanity and need for each other, and the variety of sources and methodologies of gaining knowledge and disseminating knowledge. The Arts and Sciences were seamlessly joined together,” said FIU Professor Gretchen Scharnagl. 

 If you are interested in the Honoring the Ocean course, it will be available next spring. For more information about this course, please e-mail Professor Gretchen Scharnagl at scharnag@fiu.edu.