By Michele Nicole Johnson
When Daniel Rhiner was in eighth grade, he traveled with his middle school class to Skidaway Island for a field trip.
His class from Rome, Ga., like many others over the years, spent time at the UGA Marine Extension Center and Aquarium learning about the plants and animals in the marshes, rivers and ocean.
Years later, as a student at Kennesaw State University, Rhiner returned to the coast to visit the center. After graduation, he participated in the Georgia Sea Grant Marine Education internship program.
From September 2013 through August 2014, he led field trips—like the one he had been on years earlier—and helped with the marine science summer camp on Skidaway Island.
“UGA Marine Extension has opened my eyes to education and the importance of preserving Georgia’s unique ecosystems, not just on the coast but across the state,” Rhiner said. “As a Georgia Sea Grant intern, I was the one opening the eyes of students to the value of science education, reaching students of all ages throughout the state, which I hope will transcend to other parts of the country and world.”
Now Rhiner is a seventh- and ninth-grade science teacher at The Heritage School in Newnan, Ga. He plans to share his knowledge about the delicate coastal ecosystems and take his students to the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium next year.
From summer camps to weekend workshop, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant continue a long history of helping create generations of students who are passionate about science.
During the 2013–14 school year, 14,000 children from schools in over 100 public and private schools in six states—Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado, Ohio and Tennessee—came to Skidaway Island to experience a hands-on, feet-in approach to coastal ecology and marine science.
Programs served students from pre-K to 12th grade as well as college students, teachers and public audiences, all of whom spent time in laboratories and in the field. Participants boarded the 24-foot Carolina Skiffs and the research vessel Sea Dawg to explore the rivers, marshes and ocean environments. Educational programs were aligned with Georgia’s Common Core Performance Standards.
“We serve Georgia by giving students who live inland the opportunity to learn firsthand about Georgia’s coastal ecosystems,” said Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Outreach Programs. “Practical hands-on science education is critical to helping young people develop problem-solving skills and an understanding of how our everyday choices impact our environment.”
The Marine Extension Service and Georgia Sea Grant awards four one-year marine education internships each year to recent college graduates from across the country. The 2013–14 interns served as educators for 50 weeks on Skidaway Island at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium. They taught thousands of students, teachers and the general public over the year, and also participated in outreach by judging science fair projects, teaching during science nights at local schools and field-testing educational curricula. The internship program began in 1987 and has risen to national prominence, drawing students from throughout the country.
“The internship program is yet another way Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant provide educational opportunities and encourage stewardship in coastal Georgia,” said Anne Lindsay, associate director for marine education. “It allows us to develop new leadership for the state and benefit from the fresh ideas and perspectives that interns bring to our work.”
A collaboration with children’s musician Roger Day brought the story of Georgia’s coast to a broader audience. Day’s new musical release, Marsh Mud Madness, was co-commissioned by Georgia Sea Grant and the Savannah Music Festival. Day performed for about 7,000 school children in Effingham, Jasper and Chatham counties before hitting the road in a national tour, encouraging young people to wiggle and giggle and sing along while learning about Georgia’s important coastal ecosystems.
UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant also launched a new coastal birding program on Skidaway Island in 2013 in response to increased public interest in ecotourism and a desire to better engage the birding community. The program offers information about coastal bird species and how destruction of coastal habitats contributes to declining populations. Savannah Presbytery M.K. Pentecost Ecology Fund donated $2,000 to the Skidaway Island facility to help support the bird education program.