by Jesse Mitchell, staff writer
NOVEMBER 2022 — The sound of coastal water erupts as it crashes against the shore, spraying up and engulfing the air. Off in the distance, the sea starts to rise and bulge before it explodes, giving way to a beautiful orca or gray whale leaping out of the water for a couple seconds before it disappears with a huge splash below the waves.
This is the mental image that some Bio-Med Science Academy juniors have envisioned and dreamed about, and it’s a reality that’s coming true for six students due to Bio-Med Partnership with the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED). Selected students will be given the opportunity to travel to Sitka, Alaska in early Nov. 2023 to attend the Sitka Whale Festival, in an opportunity that is lovingly referred to as “Whales” or the “Alaska Trip” by junior students.
This opportunity allowed any students in the class of 2024 to sign up for participation in a program run by NEOMED’s professors, Dr. Hans Thewissen and Dr. Lisa Cooper. The opportunity comes with the obligation of taking a three-week class called Whales, Seals, Evolution & the Oceans during a period known as accelerated term. During accelerated term, students get to take elective classes in place of their normal curriculum. Students in this class will be able to learn about whales one-on-one with Thewissin, who discovered the Walking Whale.
Interviews with Thewissen Oct. 17 decided on the potential ten candidates. Of these 10 candidates, only six would be chosen to be a part of the team, and the other four would be backups if one of the six could not go During these interviews, the students had to take part in an informal discussion speaking to why they wanted to be on the team and give Thewissen a chance to evaluate them in person.
“The interview was very stressful… and nerve racking,” junior Kathrine Lennox described.
Junior Logan Cook said, “I put a lot of work into preparing for that interview, and I am extremely grateful that it paid off.”
The six students selected to go on to Alaska are Logan Cook, Clare Haddon, Maya Kline, Katherine Lennox, Andrew Nguyen, and Morgan Whiteman. The alternatives for the trip are students Abbigail Crawford, Nathan Pastor, Bristol White, and Ella Wright.
“I don’t know many of [the people going on the trip] super well, but I think it’d be fun. It’ll be a nice opportunity to make new friends,” said Lennox.
Wright, when she found out she was an alternate, expressed that it was “a little disappointing to not be able to take part in the opportunity that [Thewissen] is chaperoning and in charge of…. I would have liked to get in. Second runner up is not great,”
A disappointing feeling is one shared amongst the four who are alternatives on the team, but despite that, they remain just as appreciative and grateful as the entire group is for the opportunity.
Cook explained his reason for taking advantage of the opportunity“When I was presented with this — while it’s not necessarily the exact biology field I want to pursue, as it is marine biology, and that’s not exactly where my interests lay — it is still biology, and as someone who wants to pursue that field and opportunity where I could do that with two world class experts… was far too good to pass up,” he said.
Like Cook, who plans to study biological engineering after graduating from Bio-Med, many of the other students are using this as an opportunity to explore something they wouldn’t have considered before.
“I thought it would be interesting just to learn more about [marine biology], because it might be something I’m interested in in the future, and also, it just sounded like a fun opportunity,” said Lennox.
For Nguyen, one of his most significant reasons for applying was, “It will also look really good on my resume…and also who doesn’t really want to go to Alaska?” he asked.
Nguyen is an avid snowboarder, as he described himself as a “big snow guy,” and he is looking forward to using the trip as a way to explore Alaska.
For many, being able to explore Alaska was one of the consequential reasons to apply, with the program offering “an all-travel and lodging expense paid trip to Sitka, Alaska,” as assistant Chief Administrative Officer Lindsey McLaughlin wrote in an email to juniors.
The Sitka Whalefest’s website describes the event as, “not like most science symposiums, and it’s really for the public and for everybody who really likes marine environments.”
The heart of the Whalefest is a three-day symposium where speakers and scientists from around the world come together to discuss their research and to talk about marine environments around the world. For the students selected, they will be a part of a presentation at the symposium along with participating in other events and lectures to enrich themselves in current marine biology research.
“I think the actual trip itself [will be the best part], because I looked into the festival, and it seemed really fun. And the symposium [too], watching the presentations that other people do is going to be wonderful,” shared Lennox.
Along with the free trip, there is the possibility that four of the selected students will receive an internship with Thewissen.
“Working with the professors and the opportunity to be their intern… I plan to give it my all, and I plan to do my best and hopefully impress. I’m just excited for the challenge,” said Cook.
Cook concluded, “One of the blessings of being at Bio-Med is that they structured this for us, and then they provided this opportunity for us. I don’t know that, as an individual student, I ever would have been able to pursue and accomplish this.”