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Group travels from Washington, D.C., to get hands-on marine science experience in NH

Union Leader Correspondent

August 05. 2013 7:40PM
Students with the Higher Education Readiness Opportunity or HERO, program in Washington, D.C. learn about New England aboard the R/V Gulf Challenger on Monday from Mark Wiley, assistant director of education for New Hampshire Sea Grant. (GRETYL MACALASTER PHOTO)

NEW CASTLE -- Many of the students aboard the R/V Gulf Challenger on Monday have never considered a career in marine science.

But first-hand exposure to the work of marine research scientists aboard a vessel might have convinced a few.

More than 60 young men from Washington, D.C. were at the Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex Monday as part of the Higher Education Readiness Opportunity, or HERO, program's summer leadership academy.

HERO, based in Washington, D.C. and in Washington state, is dedicated to increasing college readiness among middle and high school boys, with a special focus on young men of color from economically disadvantaged families.

The goal of the summer program is to introduce the 13- to 19-year-olds to career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

The 63 students were broken up into small groups during the Coastal Floating Lab program. Each group studied a core sample taken from the bottom of the Piscataqua River, and learned about marine life, ocean navigation and the coastal landscape.

The program was put on by University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Marine Docents and New Hampshire Sea Grant.

"It has been an extremely wonderful day. I think the guys are learning a lot, and they are out of their comfort zone," HERO Director Kevin Mungin said. "That's the best part of this for me, is seeing them enjoy learning something they might not have if they hadn't come with us."

Today, the group will visit the Seacoast Science Center in Rye; on Wednesday the youngsters will tour college campuses in Boston. The New England trip is capped on Thursday with a day of deep-sea fishing.

"A lot of them have never been on a boat. All of them have never been here to New Hampshire," Mungin said.

Previous summer groups have gone to North Carolina.

"These different experiences let them know life is more than where they live," Mungin said.

Mark Wiley, assistant director of education for NH Sea Grant, said exposing young students to marine science is exactly the kind of thing they love to do.

"We are getting them excited about opportunities that exist outside of their normal environment," Wiley said.

He said students learn better when they are engaged and excited, so the day is as much about getting them on the water as teaching them what scientists look for in a core sample.

"We need to get kids on boats doing things in the field first," Wiley said, noting the interest in content will follow.

The Coastal Floating Lab hosts 12 to 15 groups each year; most are from New England. Wiley said this is the first time the lab has had a group from as far away as Washington.

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