USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: My Journey to USC Dornsife

By Jordan Smith-Newman

Last fall, I transferred from New York University to the University of Southern California. As much as I enjoyed the crowded chaos of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side, it did not seem to add up to the exhilarating happiness I feel when scuba diving off the California Channel Islands. For example, few sensations compare to exploring the waters off Catalina Island where the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center is located; from the stands of giant kelp filled with garibaldi and calico bass to the sandy bottoms where bat rays gather. At one point, I flipped onto my back and hovered between two 30-feet high stands of giant kelp, staring up to the surface. The only break of utter silence was of each inhale and exhalation of air through my regulator, making alternating wheezing and gurgling sounds. It’s times like this that I think to myself that the ocean truly is my playground and that I had transferred for all the right reasons.

Stand of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) off the California Channel Islands. Photo courtesy NOAA.

As a student in the Dornsife Environmental Studies Program, I’m currently enrolled in a scientific diving course, which is preparing me to participate in the USC Maymester Program in Micronesia. In particular, we will journey to Guam and Palau to explore one of the most biologically diverse marine environments in the world. We will examine various environmental issues from sustainable development of coastal areas to preservation of reef biodiversity. One of the highlights of the course includes conducting research with local marine scientists and resource managers in both Guam and Palau with the intent that some of our collected data will be used for drafting policy regarding conservation of marine ecosystems. The opportunity to participate in ongoing field research and policy decisions is an ideal way to make real-time contributions to the scientific community at large.

USC scientific divers gather for safety briefing before a dive. Photo by Nick Leonard

Currently, I’m in the process of submitting an application to the USC Progressive Degree Program, which will allow me to graduate in five years with both a Bachelors and Master’s degree in Environmental Studies. After receiving these combined degrees, I envision a future career in which I help to strengthen partnerships between academic science and environmental policy communities.

About the author: Jordan Smith-Newman is a junior in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. She has a strong interest in marine and coastal environmental policy. After she completes her BS in Environmental Studies she plans to pursue a degree in Environmental Law.

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 David 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

This entry was posted in Catalina Island, Guam, Palau, USC. Bookmark the permalink.

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