Campus News

Sea dreams

Undergraduates study marine biology, visit coastal regions

Catherine Teare-Ketter’s eyes simply sparkle as she describes what her students experience during her summer course in marine biology offered to UGA undergraduates.

“When you see one of these kids holding a starfish or a seahorse for the first time, and you recognize that look in their eyes-the utter joy of discovery-it’s an amazing feeling,” she says.

The summer-session course in biology of the marine environment has changed students’ ideas of the oceans, and with sign-up time now at hand, Teare-Ketter is a whirlwind of energy as she talks about the program.

This past summer, the course drew a large number of UGA football players, including stars such as Kedric Golston and Leonard Pope, and their joy in studying marine environments was contagious.

“One day we caught a baby shark, and I had students taking pictures with their cell phones and calling their moms to show them,” says Teare-­Ketter, laughing.

But while the course and its two field trips-one to Georgia’s Sapelo Island and the other to the Gulf Coast off Florida’s panhandle-are extremely enjoyable for students, serious scholarship is involved.

Golston was so taken with this past summer’s course he suggested to Teare-Ketter, whom the students call “Dr. C.,” that he wished the combining of academic success with fun did not have to end with the close of the summer session.

Teare-Ketter thought about Golston’s comments-and a new public-school outreach program was developed as a companion to the summer class. Now some 15 students are taking an upper-level undergraduate course and working with upper elementary and middle school teachers and students in Clarke and Oconee counties to spread the word about marine science.

The main summer course, MARS 1020, which is intended for non-­science majors, has drawn increasing interest since it debuted as a summer class in 2001.

Teare-Ketter, an academic professional in the School of Marine Programs since 2000, has been on campus much longer. She was in charge of UGA’s biology labs for more than a decade before moving a few blocks to marine sciences.

“The class has two field trips, the first to Sapelo Island around the last week in June,” says Teare-Ketter. “We spend half a day out on a boat in the ocean and half a day in the tidal marshes, studying the environments. Many students say that they understand how these systems work for the first time by seeing them in action.”

The second field trip is to sea grass beds off the Gulf Coast, which are rich with ocean flora and fauna and provide students an excellent chance to snorkel in beautiful, pristine waters. On this field trip, the group also spends half a day on the Wakulla River, a manatee breeding area, where they will see manatees and might see a bald eagle.

The outreach program is in its first semester this spring, and so far the results have been extremely ­encouraging.

Teare-Ketter’s teaching schedule might be considered tough by some. As soon as spring semester classes finish, and before summer session starts, she teaches a May term program called “Reef to Rainforest” in Belize, where students have the chance to study and hike in one of the last pristine rainforests in Central America. This program also involves faculty from anthropology and forest resources. And then it’s on to the summer class.

“I have really grown to love what we do for undergrads in this summer class,” says Teare-Ketter. “I guess I’m four parts Mr. Wizard, one part Mr. Green Jeans, and one part scientist sometimes. But it works.”

Since the course satisfies a core curriculum requirement, students are eager to take it. But Teare-Ketter’s goal is more ambitious.

“I want them to be enthusiastic, environmentally sensitive lovers of the outdoors,” she says.