By Dawnielle Tellez
Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com
Along the rocks of Big Fisherman’s Cove off Catalina Island, I wove in and out of the towering kelp beds as curious Sheephead and Garibaldi edged ever closer to me. It was my first dive as a certified NAUI Open Water Diver, on the pathway to scientific diver, and I felt a great sense of accomplishment and pride as I explored the near-shore ocean.
Adventuring slightly deeper than I ever had before, I gazed up through 40 feet of seawater to the surface. It was then I realized how fortunate I was to be at that exact time and place. If not for USC David and Dana Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, it never would have happened.
This time last year I didn’t know that I would be attending USC for the 2011-2012 academic year. I was a freshman Biology major at another private university in California, where I felt lost as a lone marine biology student in a mob of pre-med hopefuls in my classes. I applied to USC as an Environmental Studies major with a concentration in Oceans, Life, and People so that I could actually enjoy my classes as an undergraduate while having an educational experience more tailored to my interests.
During the Fall Semester, on my first day of classes at USC, I heard about the ENST 480 Maymester course: Integrated Ecosystem Management in Micronesia. Immediately, I knew that not only did I have to do everything possible to take the course, but also that I had made the right choice in transferring to USC.
Thus far, the joint courses, ENST 298 Scientific Diving and ENST 480 Integrated Ecosystem Management in Micronesia, have proven to be much more than average academic classes. On paper, these courses make up six-units of my semester, but in reality they have affected greater aspects of my life in many ways.
For instance, this course provides the opportunity for undergraduates to conduct research that will contribute to the application of Palauan waters (in Koror State) to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which would make it an internationally recognized marine protected area. With only authorized resource managers and scientists allowed in the marine sanctuary, we are incredibly fortunate to have access to the area where we will be conducting environmental measurements of ecosystem health by identifying key invertebrate and fish indicator species.
On a more personal note, this course will allow me to delve into aspects of my life outside of the academic realm. As I am half Filipino, I look forward to visiting Guam and Palau due to the affinities of their cultures to my own. I have not yet traveled to the Philippines, so this course will provide me with my first exposure to Asian-Pacific island culture.
Additionally, this course has deepened my ties to the USC community overall. Coming in as a sophomore transfer student, I felt disadvantaged because I missed making connections within the school community during my freshman year. However, upon meeting the other 24 students in this course, I knew I will always have friends to rely upon at USC.
Over the three weekends we have spent together on Catalina Island and during our class lectures, we have forged friendships while diving, hiking, and learning together. My Guam and Palau Maymester peers are not just potential dive buddies or study group partners for our other ENST classes, but are a part of my college family.
I have been challenged personally, physically, and academically in ways that I never imagined a college course could accomplish. Specifically, it has allowed me to fulfill my goal of becoming a science diver while also propelling me towards furthering a career in the marine sciences. The discipline of scientific diving has strengthened my personal character, confidence, and tenacity. As much as I enjoyed my freshman year at another school, I made the right decision in transferring to USC. I cannot imagine another university providing me with the type of well-rounded education that has fostered such academic, intellectual, and personal development.
About the Author:
Dawnielle Tellez is a sophomore Environmental Studies major in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Dawnielle has a strong interest in marine science and looks forward to pursing a career in veterinary medicine with a specialty in marine mammal care.
Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.
Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Environmental Studies Lecturer Dave Ginsburg, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies