USF Magazine Summer 2021

Page 40

Camp takes girls on deep dive For 30 years, the Oceanography Camp for Girls has inspired teens to pursue careers in science


By KRISTEN KUSEK, MA AND MS ’98 | College of Marine Science

HE USF COLLEGE OF MARINE SCIENCE launched its first Oceanography Camp for Girls (OCG) in 1991. That also was the year digital cell phone technology was launched, although most people still had phones attached to walls — and the year “the web” became publicly available, although few knew what that really meant. How the world has changed since 1991. But the OCG has stood the test of time. This year’s 30th anniversary camp is scheduled to take place, in person, in July. This three-week summer program, designed for young women from Pinellas County in their sandwich summer between middle school and high school, has earned billing by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a model for immersive, experiential STEM learning for women and girls. Activities include a spectrum of hands-on field trips, guided laboratory experiments, interviews with scientists, communications training, and more. Studies suggest middle school is the time young women start to lose interest in science, and 30 years of OCG survey data suggest that campers leave the experience with a much better appreciation for, and understanding of, what it means to do ocean science. “They learn, like I did, that being a marine scientist is about a lot more than training dolphins,” says Makenzie Kerr, 26, who attended the camp in 2009. Kerr is a prime example of the camp working as a feeder into USF and the St. Petersburg-based STEM workforce. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in marine science, both on the USF St. Petersburg campus. Today she works as the lab manager and outreach coordinator in a marine genomics lab at the USF College of Marine Science. Having come full circle, Kerr also works 10 hours a week for the OCG. She vividly recalls, with an energetic enthusiasm she still carries today, the first time she observed seawater under the microscope as a camper. “The plankton looked like mini aliens swirling around,” she says. 40


The 21-year-old T-shirt: one camper’s good luck charm Jessica Cross, 34, OCG alum from 2000, is a chemical oceanographer who works for the NOAA Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. She studies climate change in Alaska. “In rural Alaska especially, many people live off the land and climate change is a lived experience for everyone,” she says. “It’s really about life and death decisions here.” Cross credits her natural tenacity and her camp experience with launching her career in ocean science – so much so that she brings her OCG T-shirt, now 21 years old, with her as a good luck charm on every research expedition. Given that she’s spent 413 days at sea so far, the shirt has seen more of the world’s oceans than most people ever will. “The holes give it character,” says Cross, who describes herself as an average student at best—one who certainly had an enthusiasm for science but never a natural aptitude for it. “OCG humanizes what scientists do,” she says. “I realized I didn’t have to be like Jacques Cousteau to work in marine science. There was so much more to it, and this huge spectrum of people contributing. OCG helped me envision that I, too, really could be a scientist.”

So much more than STEM While the camp’s stated mission is “to inspire and motivate young women entering high school to consider career opportunities in the sciences,” describing the OCG as a STEM program is a bit like describing a Tampa Bay sunset or a Dali painting as “nice.” It falls epically short. “Camp literally changed my life,” says Dr. Rachel McCaffrey, 34, who attended camp in 2001. A breast surgeon who helps cancer patients in Michigan, McCaffrey recently accepted a position at Vanderbilt University where she’ll work full-time as a surgeon and teach on the side. “My passion for teaching stems directly from the OCG,” she says. McCaffrey speaks with a kind of surgical

Teresa Greely, ’85, MS ’94 and PhD ’08, far left, has served as the camp’s director since 1994. Angela Lodge, a former social worker and youth development expert who co-directed the camp for more than 20 years, stands at far right.