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July 18, 2018

SSV Corwith Cramer voyage adds new dimension to PEP

Doug Karlson,

SEA Semester

Students of the Woods Hole Partnership Education Program aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer.

Yoana Guzman, a student in the Woods Hole Partnership Education Program (PEP), had never been on - nor even near - the ocean.

“Home to me is mostly desert,” said the Cal State, Chico student who’s pursuing a double major in electrical engineering and physics. “This was my first time near a large body of water.”

It was also the first time that a voyage aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, operating out of Woods Hole this summer, was incorporated into PEP.  During their first week of classes, PEP students boarded the Cramer at Dyers Dock and embarked on a four-day cruise through Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay.

The goal of PEP is to increase diversity in the Woods Hole science community by recruiting students and recent graduates from under-represented colleges and universities. The ten-week summer program consists of a four-week course at Sea Education Association and a six-week internship at one of the Woods Hole scientific institutions. Students live on campus at SEA.

“I just loved being an active crewmember,” said Guzman, who is spending the summer at WHOI developing an algorithm to control a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) deployed by WHOI’s Jetyak autonomous surface vehicle.

For Guzman, it was an important hands-on experience. “I think it’s good. It pushes you beyond your comfort zone.”

The voyage “set the tone. It put it all in perspective,” said James Brown, a recent graduate who majored in agriculture at Kentucky State University. For his internship, Brown is building an aquaculture system for African clawed frogs at the Marine Biological Laboratory.

“You can do classroom work all day, but unless you actually experience it, it doesn’t resonate,” he said.

On the cruise, students conducted scientific experiments including deploying a CTD profiler, Neuston net tow, and Shipek sediment grab. 

James said he didn’t expect to be so actively involved sailing the ship. “I absolutely loved it!” he said of the experience.

“The voyage allowed a hands-on feel for what marine biology truly is,” said Jehmia Williams, a biology major at Bethune-Cookman University.

Williams, who is studying the circadian rhythms of sea anemones at WHOI, didn’t expect to become a working member of the crew. “I thought it was a cruise!” she said. Instead, she found herself at the helm of the 134-foot brigantine steering through the night.

That was a new challenge for Williams, who said she gets anxious driving a car. Williams was encouraged by a crewmember on the quarterdeck. “She kept saying ‘you got this, you can do this.’ I felt it made me realize that I can tackle my biggest fears. It made an impact on me.”

Though she thinks of herself as a leader, Williams said the experience aboard the Cramer taught her the value of teamwork and discipline. “Its important to learn how to be a follower too,” she said.

She credits the cruise for allowing the members of the program to bond in a way they couldn’t on shore. “On a boat you’re forced to be a family, to get to know each other. It helped knowing that everyone was a little nervous.”

During her night watch, Williams, a native of Atlanta, listened as a crewmember identified the planets and stars of the night sky. “Living in the city you don’t see the stars,” said Williams. “It was amazing, being able to see the sky in its natural beauty.”

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