Marine Science Teacher “To be honest, it wasn’t until about three years into my job as an educator that I started to identify myself as a science teacher rather than as a whale biologist, although, for me, these two roles are not mutually exclusive. I teach classes in zoology, biology, life/ physical science, and marine science. My marine science class is one of my favorites, naturally, because I can use my own experience and personal connections to supplement class work with my students. I invite former colleagues into my classroom (in person or virtually) to introduce my students to scientists currently working in the field and learn about what they are researching. I also enjoy that it includes examining real-world examples that change from year to year. At the beginning of the school year in 2017, for example, Hurricane Harvey had just devastated areas along the Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricane Irma was barreling down on the Caribbean. What better time to talk about hurricane formation and the Coriolis effect? While I don’t expect most of my students to pursue marine science studies in college, many will grow up and be put in positions where their decisions will directly affect our planet. I hope that I have provided them with the tools to make informed, positive choices for all of us.” As a licensed teacher in Massachusetts, Cara is required to participate in professional development programs. A few years ago, this requirement landed her on an Antarctic research vessel to study photosynthetic algae (diatoms) in the Southern Ocean and near the Western Antarctic Peninsula. “I was there to learn about the science and then make it accessible to my students and to the public at large. Through daily online journals, a live-stream broadcast from Antarctica, and online Q & A sessions, my students could join me in real time and learn right along with me.”
photo by cara pekarcik, courtesy of arcus
courtesy cara pekarcik
photo by ari friedlaender, noaa
Whale Biologist During most of her time with the Whale Center, Cara served as the humpback whale catalog curator and database manager. In New England, most of the fieldwork, which involved going out on whale watch boats and research vessels, was seasonal, conducted in late spring, summer, and fall. Back in the office, Cara documented the team’s work in photoidentification of individual whales and performed other tasks for the organization. She also helped recruit interns. “When I was starting out, I paid Cara (in the yellow top) observes a breaching humpback whale off the coast of Massachusetts. my dues putting in a lot of time as an unpaid intern. It was an invaluable form of hands-on training that helped me understand more about the field I was pursuing and helped confirm that whale behavior and biology would hold my interest beyond college.” Internships can be hard work, and with no pay it is definitely a commitment and sacrifice. The networking—getting to meet and work with other people in the same field—and the job experience that came with the internship, Cara says, are essential building blocks for a marine science career. Now that she has made the move from boat to classroom, Cara still goes back to sea and works with marine scientists assisting on research projects in the summers and as part of her professional development as an educator. She is equally comfortable working in a lab, on the deck of a ship, or in a classroom. With more than a dozen years of teaching under her belt, her experience working with students has benefited the scientists she works with by effectively sharing their work with her students and others in the classroom, online, and in presentations.
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