High school students experience marine biology

While most high school students spend their summer break working at jobs or participating in various leisure activities, a select group of students recently experienced marine biology up close in Belize.

The group was led by Dr. James Engman, professor of biology at Henderson State University. Engman has led undergraduate students on similar trips for 17 years, but only recently invited high school students.

“For many years, I had wanted to try a marine biology trip with high school students,” Engman said. “Seeing how the trips have affected many college students, I thought it would be great to try to get that excitement and enthusiasm into the younger students.

“I recruited at a number of schools that I had some sort of connection with, or that had a great reputation for producing successful students.”

The students participating this past summer were from the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts (ASMSA) in Hot Springs, Maumelle, Des Arc, and the Kipp Charter School in Helena.

This summer, the group visited the Tropical Marine Research and Education Center in San Pedro, Belize, where they studied the coral reefs that populate the Caribbean Sea off Belize’s coast. They also snorkeled at several marine-protected sites.

Two of the students from ASMSA, Nick Nahas and Will Duke, recorded video of the reefs and compared it to data from previous studies. They developed a project and entered it in the Siemens Foundation Math, Science and Technology Competition.

They learned this month that they were named the only regional finalists from Arkansas.

“Next summer, my Belize class is primarily college students, but based on the success of this year’s high school group, I saved two or three spots for high school students,” Engman said. “I specifically targeted the Kirby school system because they have an outstanding record of sending us, year after year, some of our top biology majors.

“Classes like these can really open students’ eyes to possibilities that they have not considered. As an example, two of the high school students who participated in the trip to Belize have decided to pursue careers in marine biology.”

For more information about Henderson’s biology program, go to hsu.edu/biology.