SARASOTA -- New College's Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center was filled with the excited voices of students who had completed an in-depth investigation of oyster shells this week and were discussing their findings.
The session was part of a two-week summer program designed to give nearly three dozen middle and high school students an opportunity to take advantages of the area's beaches with an eye toward science.
During two weeks in June, students work in the "wet lab" of the College's Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center, learning valuable lab skills and developing an understanding of how their health is affected by the health of the coastal environment. Students have an opportunity to experiment with sea urchins and anemones, kayak on the bay to study oysters and try scuba diving as
part of a summer program at New College.
Meant to stimulate their interest in scientific development, many of the middle school and high school students were most excited about being able to actively touch specimens and conduct their own experiments.
"You learn so much in such a short matter of time that you have to think very quickly on your feet," said Rachel Stein, a student at Riverview High School.
Lisbeth Gorgonio, an incoming freshman student at Bayshore High School, said the program was recommended by a science teacher who thought she would benefit from what it had to offer.
"I really like how we get to do so many experiments and how hands-on it is," she said. "In school you don't really learn much about biology other than what's taught in the book."
Sandra Gilchrist, a professor of biology at New College and director of the marine lab, has proctored the STEM program at New College since the program began.
"We get a lot of students that come back to the program and those who discover a deep interest in science and discovery," said Gilchrist. "Reaching out to younger students is something that I've always wanted and the lab itself has wanted to create opportunities for kids that probably aren't at the top of their class but who still hold an interest in experimentation and science."
The program has offered students the opportunity to pursue their interests in science, mainly through encouraging them to take a more personal approach to the subject. The students say they like the hands-on approach.
The programs -- PUSH (Preparing Unique Students for Healthcare careers) for students in grades 9 through 11 and SUCCESS (Students United to Create Culturally and Educationally Successful Situations) for students in grades 6 through 8 -- focus on students from demographics under-represented in science.
"I liked the sea urchin experiment where we got to use microscopes to observe them," said John Lin, a 12-year-old student at Braden River Middle School. "I've had to learn faster here than I have at school because we have less time but I feel like I have learned more."
Gilchrist said by having students do their own experiments, they are able to see things in a different way.
"We are very hands-on and I think that's more stimulating than books, although books do have their place," she said. "As long as they develop their interests and are allowed to practice with the technology available to them, they'll be able to develop more of a curiosity. It doesn't matter if you're going to be a doctor or a lawyer; everyone has to know something about science."
Gilchrist is attracting Manatee and Sarasota students through her programs. This year the research center attracted 33 middle and high school students making it the largest class since New College started the program.