Students dive into BGSU marine lab
Written by HAROLD BROWN Sentinel City Editor
Saturday, 06 October 2012 07:39
Justin Grubb thought he had found a special place as a high school student when he visited the marine laboratory at Bowling Green State University.
|Dr. Matthew Partin in the marine biology lab at BGSU. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
"It looked cool. The students were working and getting hands-on experience," Grubb said.
Now a junior at BGSU, Grubb is one of five student assistant lab coordinators. He spent five weeks last summer on an internship in Costa Rica.
Marine Lab Coordinator and lecturer Dr. Matt Partin points to Grubb as an example of more than 150 students enrolled in the marine and aquatic biology specialization program.
"The lab helps student retention, gives the students a place to hang out, a place where they can belong to both the (biology) department and to the university," Partin said. The program has been growing quickly since the specialization degree was approved. It is the only program of its kind in Ohio, Partin said.
Dr. R. Michael McKay, Ryan Professor of Biology and director of the marine program, said the specialization gives students recognition for their work and makes it easier to track the growth in the program. He said 70 students entered the program this fall.
Partin said it isn't just biology students who take an interest in the lab. "The treasurer of the Student Marine Biology Association is a business major."
Partin holds three degrees from BGSU and worked at an aquarium before returning to BGSU in 1999 to oversee the marine lab.
"Students like to show off their tanks to friends and family. They spend a lot of heir time with the animals," Partin said.
Many of the animals come from breeders but the lab also collects some animals during field trips and accepts some donations. "We only take what will do well in an aquarium," Partin said.
To help with student recruitment, Partin uses a showcase display outside the lab featuring a digital picture frame of photos from field trips and boards filled with business cards of alumni.
Grubb started volunteering in the marine lab as a freshman, taking care of a coral tank. He's now responsible for four 100-gallon tanks, along with assistant coordinator duties making sure others are taking care of their responsibilities.
He has started a tank based on a Mangrove tree system, which has a sting ray as its primary resident.
In Costa Rica, Grubb lived with a host family that spoke only Spanish. He set up a reef tank from scratch there and showed students there how care for the tank. He also set up a display at a Costa Rica street to educate tourists about the illegal exotic animal market. Grubb said it is illegal to take shells from the country. "The shells in the exhibit had been taken from tourists by customs," Grubb said.
The trip also allowed Grubb to travel to a rain forest.
Partin said some student internships are done at BGSU but most are off campus. Some are as close as the Toledo Zoo, while others might be as far away as South Africa. Alumni play a key role in helping with internships.
Partin said students also help with tours of the BGSU herpatarium, the greenhouse and the marine lab, which are given on Thursday mornings. All are located in the Life Sciences Building. A highlight is a "touch tank" that allows visitors to handle marine creatures. Public tours are usually conducted Thursday mornings. Groups should make prior arrangements.
McKay said young people interested in all biology need to "take more than the minimum requirements in math and science classes. The biggest challenge with low math skills is the amount of college course work that will be required."
He said instructors are being added to help handle the growing enrollment and to expand areas of expertise, including larger animals such as sea otters and dolphins.
Started in 1963 by faculty member Cynthia Stong and a group of students who put five 10-gallon tanks together with animals from a field trip, the lab now has more than 50 tanks with more than 3,000 gallons of water.
"She has been a real rallying force for the program. She has kept track of her students. It has been important to help keep older alumni interested," Partin said. Stong received an honorary doctorate of science education from BGSU a few years ago.
A 50th anniversary event is being planned for 2013 Homecoming weekend.