Manatee, Sarasota students take to water for New College summer camp

With one eye scrunched-up closed and the other peering down the end of the refractometer, 11-year-old Lizett Hernandez shouted out the salinity — a measure of dissolved salt — of the water sample to fellow students.

“It says 30,” said Lizett, a student in the New College of Florida Push/Success program. The sample of water was one of two students in the Preparing Unique Students for Health care/Students United to Create Culturally and Educationally Successful Situations program collected from the college’s marine science research boat Wednesday morning.

In addition to the 30 parts per 1,000 salinity level in the water, students measured water temperature and pH balance and collected plankton in two locations to examine as part of the program.

“It’s pretty fun. We do a lot of activities,” Lizett said.

Lizett, who will start seventh grade at King Middle School in Bradenton in August, is one of two dozen middle and high school students in this year’s program. Lizett was also part of the program last year.

“It really helps pass by the hours,” said 13-year-old Alyssa Juhl , who will also start seventh grade at King this fall.

Alyssa collected the salinity measure from the refractometer at the second location. She came up with the same salinity level there, too.

Lizett’s sample came from 8 feet of water with a sandy bottom, a 8.07 pH level, a surface temperature of 88.8 degrees and a below-water temperature of 87 degrees.

Alyssa’s sample came from 6 feet of water with a grass bottom, a 8.15 pH level, a surface temperature of 90.5 degrees and a below-water temperature of 87.3 degrees.

The students also recorded the latitude and longitude of each location.

The PUSH/SUCCESS program is designed for students typically under-represented in the science fields. Students spend two weeks immersed in the science fields with professor Sandra Gilchrist collecting samples, running experiments and preparing reports and presentations. Most students come from low-income schools and neighborhoods.

Normally, the students got out from Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium on a boat large enough to accommodate the entire class. In the fall, New College bought its marine research boat and this is the first summer the PUSH/SUCCESS students have been able to use the boat. They pushed off from the dock behind College Hall out into the Sarasota Bay.

Along the way, Gilchrist was able to teach students some history of the area, too, as students asked about the huge mansions dotting the shoreline and whether anybody still lived in the historic houses, which include the Ringling mansion.

“They all enjoyed this beautiful bay and helped develop Sarasota,” she said.

Gilchrist was assisted by Joel Beaver , self-designated captain of the New College marine research boat and resident coordinator for marine science’ and Brandan Cole , a biological specialist and first mate. Cole assisted students with collections while Beaver drove the boat, pointing out different sites and markings on his sonar screen.

As 13-year-old Daniel Lange, who will start eighth grade at Sarasota Middle School this fall, cast the plankton net for the first sample with Cole, Beaver had some advice.

“Try not to catch any sharks,” he said.

“Or manatees,” Gilchrist added.

The plankton net brought up only water and weeds. The samples were transferred carefully into a container and placed into a cooler filled with ice for examination in the labs.

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney

Hands-on science

In the two-week program, the students do a number of activities including the water and plankton selection. Some of the other activities include:

  • Use microscopes to study the effects of oils and toxins on shrimp and sea urchins
  • Run experiments on DNA, bioluminescence, photosynthesis, and pollutants
  • Learn basics of electronic circuits and computer coding
  • Program and test submersible robots in the New College pool
  • Try SCUBA diving under close supervision in the New College pool