Seaweed and Squid and Everything Nice

USC Sea Grant Has Catalina Science Program for Girls.
by Bob Calverley
Lorraine Sadler (far right), a biology instructor with the Wrigley Institute, helps Alyssa Kitchen (center) with a dissection. Watching from the left is Heather Macias, and in the back, counselor Amber Lancaster.

Photos by Phyllis Grifman
Science isn’t just for guys anymore.

Every summer at the USC Philip K. Wrigley Marine Science Center on Santa Catalina Island, science is for girls. The USC Sea Grant Program, part of the USC Wrigley Institute, has developed two nine-day summer camp programs for middle- and high-school girls. All faculty and counselors are women, as are visiting speakers ranging from park rangers to graduate students and research scientists.

"There is an empowerment message here that women can do this," said Judy Lemus, program specialist with USC Sea Grant and co-creator of the programs, which started in summer 1999 for middle school students. The idea is to expose young women to careers in science by allowing them to explore aquatic and terrestrial life in and around Catalina.

"We immerse these young women in marine science and give them an idea of what it is like to do real science," Lemus said.

There are about 20 girls in each camp. Half are typically from Southern California, while the rest come from as far away as the East Coast. The cost of the camp is $1,150 per person, but some of those attending have their expenses covered by scholarships funded by the provost's Office of Summer Programs.

In addition to studying plankton under a microscope, dissecting fish, exploring sea life in touch tanks, surveying life in intertidal zones, identifying seaweed or listening to the heartbeat of a crab, there is time for a lot of snorkeling and kayaking.

"One of the most exciting activities is when we go snorkeling at night. We see the bioluminescence from ostracods [tiny crustaceans] and dinoflagellates [algae]," said Lynn Whitley, education coordinator for Sea Grant who worked with Lemus to create the programs.

Lemus’ favorite activity is the visit to the mudflats, one of the few left on the California coast.

"There’s always a lot of shrieking and giggling because it’s so squishy and muddy. It’s also very good science," she said. "Our motto is ‘Make science fun.’"