Education Secretary visits VIMS

  • Boat Tour  Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton (2nd from L) discusses VIMS' research programs with VIMS Dean and Director John Wells, Associate Dean of Academic Studies Linda Schaffner, and Associate Dean of Research and Advisory Services Mark Luckenbach.  Photo by David Malmquist.
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Education Secretary Anne Holton visited the Virginia Institute of Marine Science last week to learn about VIMS' education and outreach programs, with a focus on the important role that graduate students in William & Mary’s School of Marine Science at VIMS play in research, advisory service, and local K-12 classrooms.

The visit began with a welcome from VIMS Dean and Director John Wells, and a presentation describing VIMS’ education and outreach programs by Associate Dean for Academic Studies Linda Schaffner. Also included were laboratory tours and a short trip aboard a VIMS vessel.

“We really enjoyed the Secretary’s visit,” says Wells, “She was truly engaged and asked lots of insightful questions about our programs and students.”

"The Secretary's interest in our education programs was very apparent,” adds Schaffner. “We were happy to have enough time to include visits to two labs where she heard first-hand from graduate students and had good questions for them about their research."

Secretary Holton meets with VIMS Ph.D. student Mark Stratton to learn about his efforts to better understand the coastal food web through analysis of the stomach contents of fishes collected during trawl surveys.Holton’s first tour stop was in Professor Rob Latour’s Diet Analysis or “Gut” Lab, where Ph.D. student Mark Stratton explained how he and other fisheries scientists painstakingly identify and catalog the stomach content of sampled fishes to better understand predator-prey relationships and food-web dynamics in Chesapeake Bay and the coastal ocean.

The Secretary’s second stop was in Professor Iris Anderson’s Nutrient Cycling Lab, where Ph.D. student Annie Murphy described her studies of the environmental effects of clam aquaculture. Joining the conversation was Rebecca Kolkmeyer, who is contributing to the clam study for 10 weeks this summer as one of 12 “Research Experience for Undergraduate” students at VIMS.

Schaffner explained that the REU program—held at VIMS each summer since 1989—benefits both the undergraduate interns, who receive an authentic research experience, and participating graduate students at VIMS, who gain experience as a mentor by working with the interns in the laboratory and field.

Schaffner and Murphy also discussed the dual benefits of the GK-12 program, which pairs VIMS graduate students with science teachers in local classrooms. Murphy served as a GK-12 fellow during the 2013-14 school year at Grafton High School.

“By interacting with teachers and students in local schools,” explained Schaffner, “Annie and our 10 other graduate fellows improved their communication and teaching skills while enriching STEM content and instruction for their K-12 partners.”

Following a visit to the VIMS Oyster Hatchery, where she learned about advances in oyster husbandry and breeding from Dr. Stan Allen, the Secretary boarded a VIMS vessel for a brief tour of the VIMS shoreline and the York River.

Joining Holton on the vessel were Dr. Mark Luckenbach, Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Services, and Dr. William Reay, Director of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve program at VIMS.

“The vessel trip gave the Secretary a first-hand feel for the importance of our many fishery and water-quality monitoring programs,” says Luckenbach. “It also brought home the key role that our graduate students play in research and advisory service at VIMS.”

The Secretary's appreciation of the visit and vessel trip was immediately apparent. “Had a wonderful time touring, learning (and boating!) at VIMS,” wrote Holton on her Twitter feed minutes after returning to shore. “What an informative experience.”