Community, Science

Students Become Scientists for the Day

I was surprised to hear that friends of mine, who are members at the Seymour Center and visit regularly, were not aware we’ve been running hands-on youth education programs for the last 24 years. Moreover, they didn’t know that their membership dollars helped fund education programs that reach kids across Santa Cruz County and the greater Bay Area. 

It’s true. The money you spend at the Seymour Center directly supports our Discovery Lab field trips, where students, from kindergarten to college, explore ocean science and conservation concepts in a working marine science laboratory setting. 

My name is Annie and I’m new to the Seymour Center team. As a kid, I was fascinated by both sharks and otters and I still have a free admission ticket from the Monterey Bay Aquarium that my 8-year-old self guarded tightly. I had the privilege to go on awesome field trips around the Bay Area, and this is going to sound dramatic, but I am a little devastated that I never experienced the Seymour Center’s Discovery Labs as a kid.

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to see behind the scenes at the Seymour Center with a fresh set of eyes. Through the lens of a newcomer, I’d like to share a little bit about the impact you make when you visit, become a member, and donate.

Seymour Center’s age-appropriate learning programs 

In 2000, our Director of Youth Programs, Kevin Keedy, went into local schools to learn how the soon-to-open Seymour Center could best serve local K-12 students. Teachers asked for programs tailored to each grade level so students could learn about new things even if they had visited with their class the year before. So, Kevin created nine unique, age-appropriate, hands-on programs. In 2017, he redesigned the Discovery Lab programs to support California’s Next Generation Science Standards. Kevin loves that these standards challenge students and focus heavily on peer interaction, open-ended questions, and letting the kid’s interests guide the conversation. Your support allows the Discovery Labs to engage kids in fun and novel learning experiences through field trip programs designed to make life easy for teachers and chaperones.

Students become scientists for the day 

“Welcome scientists!” is the first thing Dana Neel, our Youth Program Manager, says to a group of third-graders about to embark on their Discovery Lab investigations. The scientists start in the seawater lab, where their curiosity is sparked by 12-million-year-old fossilized sea cow bones and shark teeth along with live sea urchins and sand dollars. I was struck by how frequently Dana asked the young scientists questions like, “Share with your neighbor who your favorite sea creature is and why,” which immediately led to an eruption of 25 third-graders giggling with their classmates on why they love sea anemones or whales. Throughout the learning exercises, Dana asked open-ended questions, encouraging them to problem-solve, which often led to questions like, “For the endangered species, what‘s killing them? And how do we bring their population back?”

The kids get to observe a working UCSC research lab

Next, we head outside to come face-to-face with Ms. Blue, the blue whale skeleton. Then on to observe two dolphins and a monk seal at UCSC’s Long Marine Lab and learn about how warming ocean temperatures affect marine mammals. The day ends with the kids feeling the difference between leather and bat sea stars at the aquarium’s touch table. I observed that the changing environments, starting in the lab, moving outside, and ending in the aquarium, gave different kids different ways to learn and connect. One student was not fully engaged in the beginning and by the time he saw the dolphins and then held a hermit crab in the palm of his hand, he was floored. 

“This is what you do in college?” is what a student asked one of the UCSC volunteer undergraduates. During the Discovery Lab and most all activities at the Seymour Center, children see young adults teaching and researching, showing them an example of what college or a career can be like.

Conservation through human connection

The volunteers are the heart of the Seymour Center. The Center would not be here today without a group of individuals coming together in 1979 to create a volunteer docent program. Today, this program includes high school students, undergraduates, and community members who are passing on their knowledge and passion for the ocean. Moments of learning and transformation happen at the Seymour Center because the volunteers are engaging and connecting with visitors on a human level. 

A welcoming and fun learning space

As a newcomer, I observed that the Discovery Labs create a welcoming and fun learning space for kids. That coupled with age-appropriate and dynamic hands-on learning leads to transformative experiences for kids, and in some cases even inspires them to pursue their own STEM or education careers. 

I could’ve spent another ten pages gushing about the dedicated Seymour staff or writing about our summer youth programs, the aquarium, or the new local climate-solutions experiences we added last fall, but I better wrap this up. For some, what I’m about to say comes as old news, but for us newbies, I’ve found that the Seymour Center is a joyful place and I am honored to be part of your community. 

With Gratitude,

Annie Smith 

Donor Experience Coordinator