Two PCC faculty to help Nautilus team explore undersea worlds
Two Portland Community College faculty are going to get, as they put it, “their geek on.”
Instructors Linda Fergusson-Kolmes (biology) and Jenny Woodman (composition) will sail aboard the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus this August as 2017 Science Communication Fellows with the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET). Fergusson-Kolmes will join the Corps of Exploration aboard the ship as they visit the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and Heceta Bank, which are off the coasts of Washington and Oregon.
Woodman, also sailing in August, will join the team for mapping and exploration of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary near California.
As members of the Corps of Exploration, educators and students will stand watch alongside scientists and engineers. They will participate in live interactions with shore-based audiences via Nautilus Live, a 24-hour web portal bringing expeditions from the field to students and young future explorers through telepresence technology at www.nautiluslive.org and social media.
“We’ll all be geeking out,” Fergusson-Kolmes beamed. “We want to bring the excitement of science into the classroom. I’m hoping to get a look at a real undersea, remotely-operated vehicle and talk to people while it explores. And, I can bring back what I learn to PCC and translate it for my students.”
For Woodman, joining the Corps of Exploration was “like being selected to be an astronaut.” She has been writing about ocean health and technologies since 2014 for IEEE Earthzine, an online publication sponsored by NASA and the Oceanic Engineering Society.
“There was singing, dancing and silliness,” said Woodman when learning she had earned the Fellowship. “It was a joyful moment.”
At PCC, she teaches composition part-time and has substituted at The Northwest Academy, which is an independent, arts-focused middle and high school in downtown Portland. Woodman spent two decades in the restaurant business before going back to school at the age of 40 at PCC, eventually earning her master’s degree in Fine Arts from Portland State University in 2011. She is intrigued by the opportunity to write and talk about the research through her first-hand experience, hoping the effort will result in more students getting excited about science.
“During the economic downturn, I lost my job,” Woodman said, prompting her to enroll at PCC and take her career in a new direction. “It was hard to be a freshman at 40, but it was worth it.
“I want to show how students can develop their science writing skills, and that there is an exciting opportunity at the end of this road, within science,” she continued. “To be in the midst of science happening and getting to talk to the researchers and students will be fantastic — I’m really excited about all of this.”
The duo will join 22 other educators, one artist, and 19 students from North America in the Nautilus Exploration Program. The mission of OET, a nonprofit founded by Dr. Robert Ballard (who discovered the Titanic wreck) in 2008, is centered on exploration of the ocean, while seeking new discoveries in the fields of geology, biology, maritime history, archaeology, physics and chemistry. It also strives to expand the boundaries of STEAM education and technological innovation. Selected educators and students hail from schools, universities, science centers, aquaria and non-profit organizations from 17 states in the U.S. and two Canadian provinces.
Fergusson-Kolmes, a native of British Columbia, Canada, has worked more than 10 years in the Sylvania Campus Biology Department teaching marine biology, majors biology and cell biology for health occupations. She has served as the department chair and curriculum committee chair. She holds a master’s degree in Science from Cornell University, an undergraduate degree from Simon Fraser University near Vancouver, and is working on a graduate certificate in Neuro-Education from the University of Portland.
“When I heard I was selected it felt like I was 6 years old again,” said Fergusson-Kolmes. “This is a chance to do something that I’ve always dreamed of.”
Fellows are charged with the responsibility of engaging students and the public in the wonders of ocean exploration, sharing discoveries from the 2017 mission, as well as aspects of daily life aboard a working exploration vessel. In the spring, Fellows received four days of intensive training at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography to prepare for the two to three weeks aboard E/V Nautilus. Faculty will work four shifts of four hours on, eight hours off, and four hours on between the months of May and November.
Much of the work on board will be seeing what is picked up by the remotely-operated vehicles’ cameras as they investigate specific locations on the ocean’s floor.“We know so little about the bottom of the ocean, like what’s down there and what kinds of life exist,” Fergusson-Kolmes said. “We’ll be exploring but also doing things like taking water and biological samples that will help the scientists understand the dynamics of ocean acidification in the area.”
Woodman believes this is an opportunity to get the public excited about research.
“It’s exciting to engage the public with oceanic exploration,” she said. “Only 10 percent of the ocean floor is fully mapped, so we have much yet to explore.”