By: Tiffany Whitfield, Julie Morgan and Eileen Hofmann
Local Cub Scouts from Pack 490 were the first to rekindle a tradition that has been 25 years in the making by the Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography (CCPO) at Old Dominion University (ODU). More than 800 Boy Scouts from all over Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio, as well as the Hampton Roads region have earned their Oceanography merit badge through a marine science program led by CCPO. However, the COVID-19 global pandemic abruptly interrupted this decades-old partnership in 2020. In the fall of 2023, CCPO restarted its marine science education program by hosting 34 Cub Scouts, along with Pack leaders, parents, and siblings, for an event that engaged the eager Scouts in learning about marine science.
The team who worked diligently to bring back the educational science outreach program to ODU were Julie Morgan, CCPO program manager and Susan Craig, Ocean & Earth Sciences office manager.
On the evening of September 27, 2023, Pack 490 left their den at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church and assembled on ODU’s campus to satisfy the requirements for their NOVA Award. The science-based NOVA Award program encourages Cub Scouts to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through research and hands-on activities to get young Scouts interested and involved in science. The Pack included students in second through fifth grades.
The marine science educational and outreach program led by CCPO Professors Eileen Hofmann and John Klinck, CCPO Program Manager Julie Morgan, OES Department Manager, Dana Schilling, and OES/CCPO graduate student, Natalie Sprague, created learning opportunities to engage the Cub Scouts in activities focused on the aquatic ecosystem and polar ice, two of the animal habitats included in the “Down and Dirty” module of the NOVA Award.
The Cub Scouts started their STEM-based educational journey with a short presentation on Antarctic animals that highlighted research being done by CCPO scientists in Antarctica. The presentation included videos of icebergs calving from an ice shelf, Adélie penguins, and crabeater seals, as well as photographs of Antarctic krill and minke whales.
The next set of activities involved dividing the Cub Scouts into groups to visit hands-on educational stations where they learned about the local Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and watershed. Professors, Hofmann and Klinck setup a touch tank for the Pack that included oysters, periwinkle snails, mud crabs, clams, and other invertebrates. The Cub Scouts learned how important snails and oysters are to the Chesapeake Bay. Sprague and Morgan used a watershed table to demonstrate the effects of pollution on local waterways. Schilling asked Scouts questions about what they learned for a chance to spin a prize wheel and win OES-themed merchandise.
The effect of the program is illustrated by the comment from Pack Leader Kendra DiMichele, “Our Scouts love learning new things and get excited to see and experience hands-on science. When they experience this at a young age, it stays with them, and we hope encourages them to learn and explore throughout their lives. Having educators at ODU that support youth programs is an amazing opportunity for our Scouts!”
Rodger Harvey, chair of OES at ODU expressed the importance of this marine science program. “It’s critical for our youth to understand the wonders of the ocean and have a chance to speak with working scientists who are also members of the community. Our faculty, staff, and students in CCPO have hosted many of these events over the years as part of science outreach; it’s as a wonderful way to connect us to the public and I’m proud that OES is doing its part in this effort.”
The CCPO marine science outreach program started in 1999 with a request to talk to a pre-school class about oceanography. This initial request setup what became a long-term informal science education program focused on engaging K-8 students in marine science. Over the years the science education program evolved and expanded to accommodate the various, and many, requests from individual classes, entire schools, and special events, such as summer camps. The science education program includes several hands-on learning stations and usually a presentation about oceanography.