Impact of STEMSEAS Program on Underrepresented Undergraduate Student Experiences in Pursuing Marine Science Research

Tiffany Willis, San Diego Mesa College, San Diego, CA, United States, Lisa D White, University of California Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, CA, United States and Sharon K Cooper, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, United States
The future of oceanic health is, at best, questionable while facing a myriad of challenging and complex issues. The Science Technology Engineering and Math Student Experiences Aboard Ships (STEMSEAS) program, funded by NSF, exposes underrepresented undergraduate STEM students to scientifically significant oceanographic cruises under the guidance of diverse mentors and instructors representing a range of geoscience disciplines. This critically necessary representation benefits future oceanographic research by allowing a diversity of perspectives, STEM disciplines, and cultures to tackle impending scientific problems. My cohort from the July 27-August 1, 2019 cruise experienced guided daily research aboard one of the most technologically advanced ships in the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) fleet, the R/V Atlantis. Activities included learning about deep-sea sediment cores, isotopic water sampling with the help of a CTD, and the exploratory work of the submersible, Alvin. Through interactive lectures and immersive hands-on lab experiences, the interdisciplinary backgrounds of our cohort became an apparent necessity to tackling any marine science research in furthering our understanding of deep-sea dynamics as well as weather-climate interactions within the ocean. This experience served largely non-traditional community college students of socio-economic need interspersed with traditional undergraduate students, myself falling into the former category, allowing a gap of educational experience and expertise to be bridged while allowing said expertise to be shared as we focused largely on scientific communication between our disciplines. This experience changed my personal perspective of the incredible importance of oceanographic research vessels as well as broadened my desire to attain an interdisciplinary educational background of Material Science & Engineering with a dual major in Ecology to further address issues highlighted during our lecture and lab series. As a community college student at San Diego Mesa College pursuing transfer to a four-year university, the STEMSEAS program developed a richness and depth in the general education I am receiving at my institution not afforded by attending class. The immersive nature of this program is invaluable to students at my level of education and beyond, though experiences similar to STEMSEAS are often out of reach for non-traditional and community college students due to the burden of cost and limited availability of opportunity.