There are over 2,500 miles of coastline in the Kodiak Archipelago, and there are about 3,000-3,500 Kodiak brown bears that call their island namesake home. This means that if all those salmon-stuffed ursas were lined up along the many beaches and bluffs of their Alaskan archipelago each bear would pretty much have its own mile of coast. There are only about 1,300 miles of coastline in the entire west coast of the United States of America, from Bellingham, Washington to San Diego, California, and not nearly that many bears. Think about that one. In July, a team of eight people, myself included, went to Tugidak Island on the southern end of the Kodiak Archipelago and walked a mere 2.5 miles, or one one-thousandth, of Kodiak’s coast, picking up marine debris. Eight to ten THOUSAND pounds of marine debris in three days. Now wrap your head around that number.
What is marine debris? It’s nothing more than a fancy term for trash. Garbage. Waste. Junk. And on top of whatever your word of choice is for human carelessness, you can also be sure to call it totally destructive and 100% preventable. 100% preventable, really? Yes, friends, as powerless as we all have been conditioned to feel by the forces of destruction themselves (albeit while they are disguised as “clever” advertisements and enticing packaging) this is an environmental problem that we can all stop squarely in its tracks.
So what’s the source, you ask, genuinely curious. I recycle (when I can) you say. I don’t live by the ocean and I’ve even adopted a manatee! Well have you ever drunk out of a plastic water bottle? Ever? Even as you gave yourself the excuse that it was only because you left yours at home? Have you ever bought anything that when you turned it over you could feel, in little bumpy letters next to the seam of the plastic, said “MADE IN CHINA,” “MADE IN KOREA,” or “MADE IN TAIWAN”? Have you ever stopped to think about how strange it is for something that originated in a foreign country to have English lettering on it, as clear as day?
I glance at myself in the mirror, and anxiously scrutinize my outfit. Long khaki pants and a plain, loose-fitting black shirt. It’s my first day of school, and the dress code is quite strict. No jeans. Nothing too revealing, nothing too form-fitting. No dresses, no skirts. Long pants. Sleeved shirts. No blue tops. The possible ways I could violate the code seem endless.
I glance down. My shoes may be a problem. Only closed toed shoes are allowed, and all I brought with me are sandals and running shoes. I wear the running shoes as they are the pair with the only chance of passing inspection, but they may prove to be too informal.
I grab my bag. It contains my wallet and cell phone, though I know already these items will be staying in the car. I will bring only my photo ID into the school building.
“Do you like it?” I asked, as little Elaine eagerly took the sea lettuce from my outstretched hand and popped it in her mouth. She chewed thoughtfully, opening her mouth so I could see her teeth every time she bit down, fully exploring the odd new texture. Then she swallowed and a serene expression came over her sea-sprayed face: “Miss Leila,” she said, as salt water dripped from her eyelashes, “I just want to stay on this beach forever and eat seaweed.” Elaine hugged herself within her purple rain jacket and turned to look out at the wind-whipped ocean. It was a picture of wildness and beauty, and it made me feel really alive—kind of like the feeling you get in the moment you decide to embrace the rain and just get soaked. I couldn’t have wiped the grin off my face if I wanted to as I turned to look at the other children playing along the beach and picked up a new handful of sea lettuce. I swirled it in the surf to rinse it of sand and walked down towards the little rain-dancing rain-boots with my handful of salt-soaked offerings.
Officially my job title at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is “Park Ranger,” which is both a really poor sum-up of my actual position and kind of a misnomer anyways when you work for the Fish and Wildlife Service, with is quite different from state or National Parks. When I describe my job to other people I tell them I am the Youth Conservation Corps crew leader at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR), and that I lead a team of four high school students in projects both in town and out in the field that benefit the Refuge and the Kodiak community and educate the high schoolers about the National Wildlife Refuge system and the many things that KNWR does to fulfill its mission to conserve and protect the Kodiak Brown Bears and their beautiful archipelago habitat. Which is all grand and well, but when I really think about what this summer experience is meaning to me, three words come to mind with which I would describe myself: teacher, learner, explorer.
Over my winter break, I went to visit the Saturday Academy administrative office located on the University of Portland's campus, and it was quite fun! I met some outstanding individuals who work not just for a living, but in order to provide quality academic programs for kids all across Portland and the greater Oregon area. That's the benefit of being a non-profit: you do work that is relevant to your interests, but also participating in a group that makes quite a meaningful impact on the community. During my weeklong visit, I helped staff revise internship descriptions provided by several dozen major companies across Portland, a part of Saturday Academy's Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering (ASE) program. Thinking about how to best incorporate a diversity of high school students regardless of their gender or socioeconomic status is something I have never considered, and was a thoughtful challenge for me. With an interest in Technology and Education, I learned about all the hard work that goes into organizing the hundreds of educational opportunities Saturday Academy provides, and was proud to assist with tasks in the background in order to provide a great experience for the families signed up with Saturday Academy this year.
I participated in a weeklong externship with Saturday Academy, an educational non-profit established in 1983 and based in Portland. Saturday Academy’s mission is to provide supplemental learning opportunities to kids from second grade through high school. Saturday Academy organizes over five hundred classes a year, all taught by experts from the community. Saturday Academy states that their emphasis is on science, technology, engineering and math—but a quick peek at their website shows a vast array of classes in all fields, from writing to engineering to acting. This was information I knew as I headed to my externship on the first day. What I didn’t know was that the entire organization is run by just a handful of people. Just thirteen, to be exact. Over my week at Saturday Academy I observed an efficient, enthusiastic, and creative team working hard to providing learning opportunities to bright young students.
My first task as an extern involved Saturday Academy’s Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering (ASE) program. The ASE program matches up promising high school students with industry mentors. The students spend the summer in labs or in the field, working with their mentors. In January, the industry mentors had just submitted blurbs describing the work their high school-aged interns will be doing this coming summer. In addition to proof-reading these blurbs, I vetted their wording to make sure subtle gender bias wasn’t implicit in the language chosen by the writers. As it turns out, gender bias in job descriptions is a persisting issue and data indicate this wording-bias contributes to women being underrepresented in STEM fields. Saturday Academy is deeply dedicated to providing opportunity to all children, including those historically underrepresented in STEM.
Jeri Janowsky, Saturday Academy’s director, told me that a goal of Saturday Academy is to frame education as something that doesn’t have to end when the school day ends, but rather, to frame education as a dynamic, continuing experience throughout life. I strongly embrace this perspective, and Saturday Academy is embodying the idea that education can take place even after the last school bell rings. My time at Saturday Academy was encouraging and motivational—seeing an organization with such an important message flourishing gives me (otherwise absent) high hopes for the future of education in the U.S.
I participated in an externship with Moira Tofanelli. Moira is a School Psychologist at Creative Sciences School in Portland. She was very accommodating and tailored the experience to my interests. I learned that a School Psychologist spends their time focusing on the kids who are not doing very well in school, either academically or behaviorally, and try to determine if they need special educations services. I was intrigued that this was not an exact science; there are many circumstances making it it unclear what is causing the issues for the child and what steps should be taken to help correct the problem. This was highlighted for me when I did a case study of a sixth grader who was undergoing an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services. Overall, my externship was a very rewarding and interesting experience.
Bailey Boatsman, Class of 2016
Biology Outreach Lead Teacher
Bailey is a volunteer lead teacher with the Biology Outreach program. The Biology Outreach program creates partnerships with local schools to provide science lessons to students who would not otherwise have access. Although not pursuing the sciences in her own academics, Bailey cultivates her love of teaching and evident reverence for all learning by bringing science to local elementary school students. Her thoughtful perspective reminds us not to forget that enthusiasm and true curiosity are all that is needed to reveal the joy and discovery in life’s smallest moments.