Like the summer vacations of some of her classmates, Hermione Quintos took in ocean views, experienced life on an island and sampled exotic foods.
No, she wasn’t on a Caribbean cruise or hitting the beach in Hawaii. The 15-year-old Golden Valley student spent a week discovering sea life through marine biology research and tasting such delicacies as kelp. These experiences were part of an exclusive educational opportunity on Catalina Island – the USC Sea Life Grant/Wrigley Marine Lab, which involved fewer than 20 students selected from across the nation. It’s a partnership with the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations and Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies through USC’s Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
The Sea Grant tagline is “Science serving our urban coast.” The program includes island and ocean exploration, student research and presentations, as well as STEM activities. Over the course of the week, students work with local researchers, conduct their own research projects, snorkel, kayak, explore the marine protected areas around the island, learn about careers in marine science, and build their own remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).
“We went on little trips, like kayaking and night circling,” said Hermione, a lifelong Canyon Country resident who attended Cedarcreek Elementary School, La Mesa Junior High and is now a junior at Golden Valley High School. “We saw a ray, a horn shark, an eel and flying fish. One of the instructors said it was rare to get to see (a flying fish), and a big one ended up smacking him in the chest.”
The students’ activities were “learning lab” experiences, such as swimming at night and witnessing the naturally occurring bioluminescence in Fishermen’s Cove. All of the participants had glow sticks attached to their snorkel masks, adding bursts of color to the water and making it easier for counselors to monitor the teens.
The weeklong course, including travel, is free for the students and it is focused on reaching under-represented communities in the sciences. It is designed to both provide new and challenging scientific experiences and the chance to meet people with similar interests and passions. The teens design and build an ROV from scratch using PVC pipe, wires, and a sheet of instructions, so the students learn the basics of soldering, wiring, and engineering.
“Personally, I wanted to go there to get a better understanding of things that affect nature,” said Hermione, who plans to pursue veterinary medicine. “That trip enabled us to understand not just animals, but also the microorganisms that affect them, and diseases, as well.”
When asked what was her most valuable takeaway, Hermione said, “Understanding there’s so much more to nature than when you’re on the mainland. It’s usually ignored as insignificant, but it affects you entirely.”
Hermione’s week on the island has given her food for thought. “I plan to change not only how I live, but the way I eat fish,” she said. “Change my lifestyle – what products I use and foods I eat, pertaining to animals.”
The teen hopes that more students get to experience programs like the Sea Life Marine Lab.
“Most people don’t know there isn’t just one program, there are many,” she said. “Whether you’re wealthy or not, there are so many opportunities if you look for them.”
As for Hermione Quintos’ future, there are many places it could lead. But we know that for next summer – she’s looking for another program.