College is hard enough with essays, homework, lab reports and readings to do throughout the week, but dedicated students still find time to excel in their classes, all while managing a job or internship.
Sara Gerckens, a senior majoring in environmental systems & sustainability with a concentration in coastal marine systems and a double minor in Spanish and biology, works as an intern for both the Werth Center on campus and the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk. Gerckens says she’s been working in the Werth Center since spring 2021 and at the Maritime Aquarium since June 2021.
“At the Werth Center, we have our own small aquarium there, where [the interns] are responsible for feeding the fish. We also do research at New Haven Harbor and check on water quality,”says Gerckens.
She says that her favorite part of her internship on campus is the interns’ ability to take care of the aquarium on their own. “It’s a nice space where we all made friends with each other.”
When she’s not working in the Werth Center, Gerckens spends her time as an educator at the Maritime Aquarium.
“I do lots of programs with schools and young children. I also get to be on the floor at the tanks, talking to the public,” says Gerckens. “We do travel programs too, so we bring small things like horseshoe crabs, spider crabs and talk to students about that and educate them. Usually, they all get really excited about that, which is fun.”
Gerckens says that she’s currently training to be part of the crew on the Maritime Aquarium’s boat, where they do public cruises and often take large trawl nets and collect items from the seafloor.
Gerckens says she got involved with the Werth Center after one of her professors reached out to her and suggested she intern.
“It was a great opportunity, so I jumped right on,” says Gerckens.
She says her connections in the Werth Center helped her at the Maritime Aquarium.
“Through [the Werth Center] I made friends with Nicole Woolsey, who’s now a grad student here. She works at the Maritime. Through her and my experience at the Werth Center, I was able to get the job at the Maritime Aquarium,” she says.
Gerckens says she’s fortunate to be working for the Werth Center and Maritime Aquarium and says she’s learning a lot about the tools she’s using and how science can work directly with the public.
“A big part of my job at the Maritime is talking with people and informing the youth about what we’re doing” says Gerckens.
Gerckens says one of her favorite memories at the Maritime Aquarium was going on her first boat cruise.
“They said it was one of the best biodiversity hauls they’ve ever seen. We pulled in two dogfish sharks and of course, all the kids on the boat were freaking out and it was really fun,” says Gerckens.
Gerckens says she plans on applying to grad school to focus directly on marine biology, but is still undecided which direction she wants to go in.
“Teaching is definitely an option. Being an educator at the Maritime will help me if I want to do that,” she says.
For now, she’s mainly doing research and will see where it takes her.
Miranda “Randy” Holland is a senior majoring in environmental systems & sustainability with a concentration in policy and management and minor in biology. She works as a hatchery intern at GreenWave, a nonprofit regenerative ocean farming organization based in New Haven.
Holland describes regenerative ocean farming as “a type of aquaculture where you have oyster and other shellfish in cages and then you have long lines that hang close to the surface of the water and you grow kelp from them.” She says that this is a form of protein and food production that is healing for the environment.
“The shellfish filter water, so they improve the water quality and the kelp likes better water quality,” she says. “Kelp is a really powerful carbon sync. It captures carbon emissions.”
Holland says that the idea behind GreenWave is to help increase regenerative ocean farming practices to keep improving the environment.
“At GreenWave, we have education programs and outreach for potential ocean farmers. One of the things we do to help ocean farmers is provide spools for the kelp,” she says. “Picture a thick line of rope—then there’s a thinner line, almost like butcher’s twine that you wrap around that. On that twine, are the spores of the baby kelp.”
As part of her internship work, Holland helps form those spools. “It’s a lot of aquarium maintaining, cleaning and changing water, microscope work, checking in on the spores and making sure there’s no contaminates in there and water quality once a week.”
Holland says she began working at GreenWave after looking for a summer internship.
“I contacted someone that I know from Common Ground [high school] who had emailed me with this job because he thought I would be a good fit,” she says.
Holland says her internship is helping her with schoolwork. She’s currently working on an honor’s thesis on regenerative ocean farming and is testing the impact of biodiversity, specifically how increased water quality and infrastructure allow more organisms to thrive in water and create a more diverse ecosystem.
“I started that paper before I started my internship, but it’s really cool to get some industry knowledge from my boss and being part of [GreenWave.]” Holland says this internship helps her better understand the writings and methodology she’s using to write her thesis.
Next semester, Holland will be starting her master’s at Southern. She’s focusing on integrated biological diversity.
“I’m going to pretty much continue the project I’m doing now with measuring biodiversity. Only the method is going to change,” says Holland. “Currently, I’m doing video analyses with GoPro cameras. Next semester, I’m doing environmental DNA, with the same theme, regeneration ocean farming and kelp.”
She says that her internship will continue to provide her with background knowledge as she reads more in depth about her project.
Holland says that one of her favorite memories of working at GreenWave is being a part of a current GreenWave experiment. They are currently trying to find a more accessible methodology for induced sporing where they are replicating the conditions that the kelp would normally have during its growing season in an aquarium setting. “Setting up the tank for that was really fun,” says Holland.
She says that her experience working as an intern at GreenWave has heightened her appreciation for her field.
“As I’ve started doing my honors’ thesis and signed on for the grad school project, I’m really starting to focus more into marine biodiversity,” she says. “This internship has helped to get some lab experience and reaffirm that I enjoy the field.”
Story by: Elizabeth Mercado & Everett Rende