The value of hands-on learning outside of a conventional classroom is changing the career goals for College of Southern Maryland student Shannon Roberts, 48, of Port Republic.
Roberts, who is working toward an associate degree in pre-professional health science with a concentration in physical therapy at College of Southern Maryland, was one of five college students selected to participate in a 12-week internship at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect from this experience,” Roberts said in a news release. “I was surprised by the sheer volume of research being done in our local area, and by the opportunities for community involvement in data collection, particularly in the Chesapeake DolphinWatch program. My favorite part has been being allowed hands-on experience with the underwater microphones and, of course, getting to see and hear the dolphins through the recordings, photos and videos collected.”
Roberts’ internship is part of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory’s and College of Southern Maryland’s joint Environmental Education Community College Collaboration. The EECCC internships are designed to give qualifying community college students interested in pursuing environmentally-based STEM careers the opportunity to work in a premier research setting.
In addition to gaining experience and networking opportunities, the interns also receive a stipend for their work at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.
“[These] internships provide a valuable opportunity for CSM students to gain hands-on professional research experience early in their degree programs,” said CBL Assistant Research Professor Dr. Geneviève Nesslage, who is mentoring one of the CSM interns this fall. “The program allows students to explore career options in environmental science that they might not otherwise have exposure to, including fisheries, ecology and environmental chemistry. The program also allows CSM students to work with graduate students, get a better idea of what graduate school entails, and get a feel for what a career in environmental science research would be like on a day-to-day basis.”
The Chesapeake Biological Laboratory’s commitment to increasing diversity, inclusivity, and equity inform its programming to deliberately impact today’s students and tomorrow’s scientists.
“Through purposeful outreach via the EECCC program, we believe in the positive impact of educating new scientists from all walks of life to research, understand, and manage the world’s resources” Chesapeake Biological Laboratory DirectorTom Miller said in the release, “UMCES believes including these voices and intellects will yield a more creative, complete approach to environmental management and build infrastructure that impact the entire populace.”
CBL launched the EECCC program to encourage diversity in STEM fields, which traditionally have had minimal participation from minorities and women, by making paid research internships available to community college students.
According to the release, ethnic minorities comprise just 29% of the science and engineering workforce.
Within environmentally impactful organizations, less than 12% serve in leadership positions. Women hold only 24% of STEM jobs, and leadership remains 90% male in the highest echelons of conservation, preservation and environmental organizations.
Community colleges, like CSM, offer excellent flexibility, lower tuition cost and minimal commuting, making them a top education choice for the most diverse populations in the country. As CSM strives to offer excellent coursework as well as a range of professional experiences to its students, the CSM/CBL partnership is a valuable one for both entities.
During her internship, Roberts has been working with mentor and Chesapeake Biological Laboratory Associate Research Professor Helen Bailey and has been training to help analyze data collected from underwater microphones, learning how to deploy and collect the recording devices on the research pier, sorting and saving photos and videos of dolphin sightings, as well as helping maintain equipment in the lab.
Upon earning her associate’s degree at the College of Southern Maryland, Roberts said she plans to continue her education at a four-year school.
“I want to be in a science- or biology-based career where I can make a difference,” she said.
Roberts said her internship experience with the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory has helped to direct her future career focus as she is now considering work in environmental science or microbiology.
Roberts added she has learned more about both the focus of CBL’s research as well as the business side of this kind of work.
“There are higher numbers of dolphins showing up in the waters in our area,” she said. “The data collected from these dolphins can be used to the benefit of many other researchers and studies besides our local programs.”
Also, Roberts has learned that “funding is extremely important to research programs.”
Fellow College of Southern Maryland student Amanda Colee, 21, of Lusby, also participated in the EECCC internship.
Colee has already earned her associate degree and returned to CSM to earn a nursing degree. Colee is working toward becoming a registered nurse in an emergency room or sports medicine.
“I think it’s a great idea to have experience in all fields of work,” Colee said of why she applied for the internship.
While the experience hasn’t altered her former education and career goals, Colee said she would enthusiastically recommend the internship program to others.
“I would recommend this internship to any CSM student, regardless of their major,” Colee said. “I think it’s important to have experience in different settings so you can rule out what you want to do, or be inspired by other’s work.”
Applications are currently being accepted for the spring 2020 EECCC internships and are open to the College of Southern Maryland students.
For more information or to apply online, go to www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/pathways/stem/e2c3.
For more information about the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory and the Environmental Education Community College Collaboration, go to www.umces.edu/environmental-education-community-college-collaboration-0.