University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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UW-Eau Claire Students Explore
At Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


 MAILED:  Aug. 18, 2004

EAU CLAIRE - Even though Rachel Schoen attends the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire - far from any ocean - she has spent the last three summers learning hands on just what it takes to become a marine biologist.

Schoen, a senior from Neillsville with a double major in biology and philosophy, is one of six UW-Eau Claire biology students who spent a good part of their summer learning outside the classroom at the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Miss.

UW-Eau Claire maintains a formal affiliation with USM, collaborating to offer students the chance for a dynamic educational experience each summer through intense, hands-on marine biology courses and a variety of research opportunities.

"The classes are intense, but they are informative and a lot of fun at the same time," said Schoen. "The professors come from many different places and are involved in their own research back at their own universities, so they are very up-to-date on the current information out there in the marine biology world."

Classes run four to five weeks each summer, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each weekday. Students, who live in USM dormitories, generally attend lectures in the morning and then spend the afternoons and/or evenings in lab or field activities, exploring the Gulf of Mexico with experts in the field. Seminar sessions are given every Friday to bring current research to the students.

"There is a boat trip once a week and you are able to trawl, fish, swim and do various collection activities," Schoen said. "There also are visits to several different aquariums, museums and beaches."

Schoen said that in addition to the many opportunities to volunteer with on-going research right there at the GCRL, there is also a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pascagoula Lab an hour away that offers many more research opportunities.

"I volunteered aboard the NOAA Gordon Gunter Deep-sea Pelagic Trawl last November and was able to see some of the rare deep-sea creatures that few people ever see," Schoen said.

Senior Rachel Peot, De Pere, is majoring in biology, with a minor in environmental science. She agreed that the classes are intense, but also some of the favorites of her college career. An overnight trip on the R/V Tommy Monroe, a 97-ft. research vessel, was one of the highlights she mentioned. She said the trip included great food, great views, lots of wildlife and several hours of deep-sea fishing.

"I would suggest that anyone who is at all interested in the sea and its wildlife come down and take these classes," Peot said. "You meet people from all over the country; I've made some of my best friends down here. I like it so much that I'm applying for a graduate school position down here for next year."

Both students also agreed there was plenty to do when they weren't in class or volunteering for research.

" Students usually take trips on the weekends, generally to the white sand beaches of Pensacola, Fla., or to News Orleans, La.," said Schoen. "You are also given a complimentary YMCA pass for the summer."

UW-Eau Claire professor of biology Dr. Darwin Wittrock, who has been coordinating the GCRL program since 1986, said the main benefit of the affiliation with GCRL is that students from Wisconsin and Minnesota can take coursework in marine biology without having to transfer to a coastal university.

"Many students who have been to the Gulf Coast lab once can’t wait to go down there a second year," said Wittrock. "The students have taken such courses as marine biology, oceanography, marine mammals, marine ecology, marine invertebrate zoology, marine ichthyology and aquaculture, to name a few. Getting this exposure as an undergraduate has greatly helped in preparing them for graduate study or for jobs in the marine sciences."

UW-Eau Claire began its partnership with GCRL in 1982 and is one of 63 universities now affiliated with the lab. Students from affiliate universities receive priority admission and a price break on tuition. Credits earned at GCRL are accepted as transfer credits from USM and applied toward a degree from UW-Eau Claire.

For more information on UW-Eau Claire's affiliation with the GCRL, contact Wittrock at 836-3614 or e-mail wittrod@uwec.edu.

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 Judy Berthiaume, Director
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Updated: August 17, 2004