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Marine science summer camp draws enthusiastic young learners to JU campus

Grant de la Vasselais, a rising sophomore at Stanton College Preparatory School in Jacksonville, compares local seashells during a Jacksonville University Marine Science Research Institute summer camp. (Photos by Kevin Hogencamp/Jacksonville University)

By Kevin Hogencamp

Emma Sterwerf, 15, says Jacksonville University has been her “dream college” since visiting her aunt on campus as a 6-year-old.

“I just fell in love with it and have wanted to attend college here ever since,” she said. “I like how small it is and how there’s a lot of one-on-one type of learning here. I’m definitely coming here if I can.”

A photography enthusiast and scuba diver who aspires to work for National Geographic magazine or the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Emma says that when she learned that JU offers a marine science summer camp, she jumped on the opportunity – all the way from Oxford, Ohio.

That was last year; Emma returned to JU this summer – traveling south with her mother and sister — to further her burgeoning love for marine science.

The Marine Science Research Institute holds one-week camps June 17-21 and June 24-28 for 13- to 18-year-olds in conjunction with the St. Johns Riverkeeper, providing students the opportunity to explore marine science from the St. Johns River and its tributaries to the Atlantic Ocean coastal environment. Highlights are field trips, laboratory analysis of samples collected, and recreational time at the JU pool.

Many of the campers attend both sessions and many attend the camp multiple years. The lead instructors are Riverkeeper Educational Director Jennie Busey, JU marine science Prof. Jeremy Stalker, JU research scientist Gerry Pinto, and retired Duval County marine science educator Lex Waters.

“I’m learning a lot, which sounds like school work. But it’s fun and very interesting. And you get to swim every day in the pool. It’s a great camp,” Emma said.

Assisted by JU undergraduate marine science majors, the instructors introduce the campers to standard marine science collection and monitoring equipment, as well seine nets and other equipment used by marine scientists. The camp’s activities culminate with an ice cream social and an awards program.

Like Emma, camper Grant de la Vasselais demonstrated his inherent enthusiasm for learning by readily participating in question-and-answer sessions with the camp instructions about monitoring water chemistry,  collecting and identifying fish other species, and presenting the collected data in graphs.

“This camp is great because of the hands-on field research,” said Grant, a rising sophomore at Jacksonville’s Stanton College Preparatory School in Jacksonville who hopes to become a physician. “It’s good to get out of the classroom to learn.”

As fun as it is, the camp has some rules, including cell phones being prohibited.

“These students are pretty serious. They come here already having an interest and generally with some knowledge about marine science or environmental sciences,” Waters, former Duval County Public Schools marine and environmental field studies program manager, said during June 19 session after leading a session on identifying seashells found in Jacksonville Beach.

“We try to keep it interesting with hands-on activities, fun activities. We keep it active and they get a lot out of it,” Waters said.

Here’s a gallery of photos from the JU Marine Science Research Institute summer camp: