Science & Technology

High school students get a feel for college life and oceanography

By Lauren Haggett, University Communications

Nine high school dual enrollment students experienced a bit of the open ocean last week as they traveled 25 miles out to sea for their oceanography class. Dual enrollment is a program UWF offers to high school students allowing them the opportunity to take college classes for credit while still in high school.

Wade Jeffrey, Ph.D., professor of oceanography at UWF, takes his oceanography class out on the open water every semester to experience oceanography first-hand. On June 20, the 72-foot boat, complete with crew, Jeffrey, nine eager students and a freezer full of ice cream, departed from Pensacola Bay to begin their adventure.

“The cook on board was amazing, and they literally had an entire freezer packed full of ice cream,” said Kaitlin Startzel, a West Florida High School senior.

The trip consisted of two separate departures from Pensacola, each going out about 25 miles in roughly a straight line. The purpose was to gather water samples every two to five miles or so to test for nutrients and abundance of phyto-plankton. Using a tool called a dredge, intended to scrape the ocean floor and gather sediment, as well as a large net (a trawl), the students gathered organisms for study.

“With the sediment grabs, I can show them the type of sediment changes as you go off shore, from sandy to clay, and so on. We also looked at the mixing patterns between the Pensacola Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the water coming from the Mississippi River.” said Jeffrey. “We caught various creatures, which helped show the students the different organisms that live at different depths in the ocean.”

Each student expressed how important it was for them to get hands-on learning experiences outside of the classroom. They felt it put them ahead of the game.

“It’s nice to do the work ourselves instead of having someone else take our samples and process them for us,” said Addie Benz, a Gulf Breeze High School junior. “Instead of just learning from a textbook, we actually get to use all of the instruments we learned about.”

The students caught sand dollars and a sea horse in addition to some unexpected items, such as a beer bottle and a six-volt battery. In the next couple of weeks, the students will spend many hours processing and analyzing the data they collected while on their trip.

“I’ve never seen a live sand dollar before, and I had no idea they were purple when they were alive,” said Starzel.

Many of the students spent the better part of the trip falling victim to sea-sickness, but each student was enthusiastic about their individual experiences and had a very positive attitude toward the work they had done.

“I would wake up, eat breakfast, then get sick pretty much every day,” said Justin Cooper, a Navarre High School senior. “This opportunity was so great though. Dual enrollment has opened the door for me to the college world.”

The future aspirations of these bright young students ranged far and wide, but the one common theme was their eagerness to learn.

“I’ve already declared my major, and I want to be an ocean engineer,” said Navarre High School senior, Logan Gray. “I have always been really good at math, but I found my love for oceanography. I want to do something where I can combine the two.”

“It was a great experience,” said Jeffrey. “It is the best opportunity for young students to get an idea of what oceanography is, and science is best learned through hands-on experience.”

For more information, contact Wade Jeffrey,