VIMS alumna explores ocean with Titanic discoverer

  • Underwater Robots   Bethany Smith (M.S. '08) with the ROV Hercules, one of the two robotic submarines the Corps of Explorers and Dr. Ballard are using to explore a mid-19th century shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico.   Photo courtesy of Bethany Smith
  • Meeting Fellow Explorers   VIMS alumna Bethany Smith stopped by Johnson Space Center before the expedition where she met fellow explorers of our planet and beyond, astronauts Mike Fossum (left) and Cady Coleman (right).   Photo courtesy of Bethany Smith
  • Educator at Sea   Bethany Smith, aboard the E/V Nautilus, prepares for the experience of a lifetime with Dr. Robert Ballard's Nautilus Exploration Program in the Gulf of Mexico and Carribean Sea.   Photo by Bethany Smith
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Bethany Smith, a teacher at Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School for Marine & Environmental Science in Warsaw, set sail last week with the 2013 Nautilus Exploration Program on a 8-day expedition to the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.

Smith, who received her Master’s degree from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in 2008, joins the Nautilus Corps of Exploration as one of 20 Educators at Sea. These teachers—along with 27 students—hail from schools, universities, and science centers in 21 states and 5 countries.

The Nautilus Exploration Program was founded in 2008 by Dr. Bob Ballard, a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island who is internationally known for his discovery of the wreck of the RMS Titanic. Program participants conduct scientific research from Ballard’s ship of exploration, the E/V Nautilus, and use its cutting-edge communication systems to offer a “telepresence” to explorers on shore.

“Our oceans are some of the most unexplored places on the planet,” says Smith. “I hope my participation as an Educator at Sea will help my students and our community become more familiar with these ‘big blue spaces.’ I consider myself truly lucky to have the chance to join Dr. Ballard’s Corps of Explorers.”

"I'm thrilled that Bethany was selected to participate in the Nautilus Exploration Program," says Director of CBGS Dianne Pollard. "It's exciting to see her in the live videos aboard the E/V Nautilus. The internet broadcast has provided the platform for a global audience to be able to take part in the expedition, and we look forward to hearing more about Bethany’s experiences when she returns."

The focus of the current expedition is the recently discovered wreck of a mid-19th century sailing ship. Scientists, crew, and educators will use two robotic subs—the Argus and Hercules—to explore the wreck and share their discovery with those on shore. The entire journey will be broadcast several times per day from the Nautilus Live and Exploration Now websites, as well as from several aquariums across the country.

“This program allows educators to participate in ocean exploration while it’s happening,” says Smith. “The online presence offered to the world through these websites connects them to ocean exploration in real time via live video, audio, and data feeds.”

“Meeting Dr. Ballard during our initial training session in May was a dream come true for me,” says Smith. “His name was iconic to me growing up. He’s an incredible scientist, visionary, and advocate for our world’s oceans and I’m thrilled to be joining in on this adventure with him.”

In addition to the recipients of the Educator at Sea Science Communication Fellowship, the Nautilus Exploration Program also brings 27 students from across the United States, Australia, and Canada aboard the research vessel. These interns and students stand alongside educators, scientists, and engineers to gain direct experience and be inspired as the next generation of explorers.

Smith says she is most looking forward to exploring areas in the Gulf of Mexico that—up until now—have never been explored. “The shipwreck we are working on is unknown, so to be a part of the team that uses science and archaeology to discover the story of this shipwreck is incredibly exciting,” she says.

Smith has long been fascinated with the ocean. After graduating from Rider University with a degree in marine science in 2005, she obtained her Master’s from William & Mary’s School of Marine Science at VIMS where she studied biological oceanography.

Smith will return from the expedition in August, and will bring the knowledge and experience she gained back to the CBGS where she teaches marine and environmental science to 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-grade students.

“I want to show my students and the community that even though we live in a small, mostly rural area, you can still do something big if you apply yourself,” says Smith. “I want them to see that there is a big world out there, just waiting for them to make an impact on it.”