Students scuba for spring break

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Emma Bergman, Dr. Soper, Amanda Heinzler and Grace Nye take a break to appreciate the largest snail species on the Florida Keys Reef Tract. Photo courtesy of Dr. Soper.

Over spring break, eight students elected to accompany Dr. Deanna Soper, assistant professor of biology, to the Florida Keys on a rigorous travel course entitled Marine Field Ecology.

The students spent the week scuba diving off the coast in an interactive lab course, studying and observing the diverse marine habitats in the Florida Keys. They also spent time visiting two biological field stations dedicated to coral research and restoration. 

These students were Emma Bergman, Amanda Heinzler, Sara Hey, Jenny Moreno, Grace Nye, Gabriel Saldivar, Matt Scheaffer and Rosa Venditti.

Marine Field Ecology came into being in the spring of 2019 through the efforts of Soper to emulate a course she taught during her time as a high school biology teacher.

In an email, Soper shared: “From 2000-2006, myself and colleagues took 20 high school students to MarineLab in Key Largo, FL for the laboratory portion of a Marine Biology course. After arriving at UD in 2016, I wanted to develop a similar curriculum for my undergraduate students.”

Her undergrads certainly appreciate this endeavor, citing their excitement and satisfaction with the course. Matt Scheaffer, a sophomore economics major, commented: “Weirdly, my favorite part was probably the boat rides to where we were going to scuba dive. It was really peaceful watching the ocean and islands swoosh past. I felt like a dog with its head out the window.”

Scheaffer’s dad is a divemaster and consequently Scheaffer has been diving since he was 11.  Scheaffer said of Soper’s course, “I had absolutely zero expectations … I wasn’t sure what to expect from a college trip … Soper was able to find the perfect balance of structure but also freedom for the students which made it really enjoyable.”

Senior English major and Community Editor for The University News Heinzler echoed Scheaffer’s sentiments, reflecting on her experience: “I vowed to become a personal menace to the Christmas tree worms by scaring them into their tubes by snapping at them whenever I swam by. It was a blast!”

Making Marine Field Ecology happen is no small feat. Soper explained: “I do not use a tour company. I do the organizing and planning entirely on my own.” The biology professor has dedicated significant time and effort to making this field course happen. 

However, even with the high workload, Soper pointed out that “The students have overwhelmingly given me evidence of the deep and enduring impact this course has on them whether they are biology majors or otherwise … It is for that reason, that I am hopeful to be offering the course again in Spring 2024.” 

Heinzler echoed Soper’s point, reflecting, “The most impactful thing was getting to participate in coral restoration efforts … appreciating the beauty there so much more and mourning the full extent of the destruction that these reefs have faced due to human impact and global climate change.” 

Scheaffer echoed Heinzler, citing that he was also deeply moved by the coral restoration efforts. Additionally, he pointed out, “My roommate Gabe S[aldivar] and I were actually pretty deeply changed by the trip … We have started going to lakes more and watching sunsets/sunrises because, before the course, we never realized how fully healing and fulfilling nature actually was.” 

Scheaffer’s parting advice for the rest of the UD population is “Anyone who has the opportunity to go on one of these trips has to go. I came out of this trip with a few newfound core memories and some very unexpected friendships that I will be forever grateful for.”

Unfortunately for this senior, I will be long-graduated by the time this course rolls around again. However, if you are a sophomore or younger, it might be time for you to go get scuba certified and boldly follow Soper into the wilds of the Florida Keys.

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