Around the Pier: Up, Up, and Away-to College


Summer break is a time when many students relax and spend lazy days in the sun, but for ambitious students participating in Upward Bound, it’s a time for academic exploration.

This summer, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego hosted 30 high school seniors from the Palomar College chapter of the TRIO Upward Bound program, a federally-funded outreach endeavor that provides year-round college preparatory instruction for disadvantaged and low-income students. Many of these Upward Bound students, who live in the North County region of San Diego, will be the first in their families to attend college.

For one month, the high schoolers experienced a glimpse of college life, living in dorm housing near the Scripps campus and spending their days participating in classroom activities covering chemistry, foreign language, math, and art. They also worked alongside Scripps graduate students two days per week conducting earth, ocean, and atmospheric science research in labs, on the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier, and along the beach—a highlight for many.

"Our partnership with Upward Bound provides students with a hands-on experience that allows them to connect what they have learned in high school with research being conducted at Scripps,” said Scripps Graduate Coordinator Gilbert Bretado, who has helped organize the summer program for the past three years. “By working with our PhD students, these students have a much better understanding of what career opportunities an education in the sciences can provide.”

The Upward Bound program concluded on a hot summer’s day in late July, with 50 additional students (future Upward Bounders) ranging from 9th-11th grade joining the seniors in a flurry of activities around the Scripps campus, including career talks, science demonstrations, and a visit to Birch Aquarium at Scripps.

Scripps graduate student Eric Lindsey gave a demo on how to use differential GPS, a system that is used to measure the speed of the Pacific and North American plates in millimeters per year. Utilizing a GPS benchmark located just south of the Scripps Pier, Lindsey showed the students how to set up a tripod used for measuring the precise movements of tectonic plates over time, and he allowed them to practice using the equipment.

“Today I’ve learned about tectonic plates and earthquakes, and how GPS can locate how plates move,” said Eduardo, 14, an incoming sophomore at San Pasqual High School with a passion for architecture. “It’s been pretty interesting.”

Scripps graduate student Maitreyi Nagarkar spent time with the students in a lab where she discussed microbial diversity, bacteria, and the many different types of plankton in the ocean. She then led the students through a hands-on DNA extraction activity using strawberries, a detergent/salt solution, ethanol, and some tubes to demonstrate how scientists use DNA to identify an organism.

Orange Glen High School student Cindy, 15, said she learned a great deal during the Scripps visit, which further sparked her interest in science.

“I learned a lot about different kinds of animals and bacteria, and it kind of makes me want to go into a science major,” said the incoming high school junior.

Later in the day, all 80 students gathered in a lecture hall to listen to keynote speaker Eric Allen, who talked about his path to a career in science.   

“In high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” said Allen, now an associate professor of marine biology at Scripps and associate professor of molecular biology at UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences.

The students listened attentively as Allen relayed his “life-changing experience” of volunteering in a marine research lab for three days as a high school junior.

Allen explained how this chance encounter in a research lab led him on a path to study marine biology in college, and eventually, to pursue a PhD at Scripps Oceanography, where he studied extremophiles, marine bacteria that thrive in extreme environments such as the deep sea, and halophiles, organisms that thrive in high salt concentrations. This research has taken Allen across the globe to places such as Antarctica, Japan, Canada, the Mariana Trench, and Australia.

Following Allen’s inspiring presentation, he participated in a Q&A session with the students and talked to them about the variety of possibilities provided by a college education. As the event drew to a close, he left the eager youngsters with some helpful advice.

“Take advantage of this Upward Bound opportunity and do as much as you can. Some of you will go on to work in science,” he said. “There are opportunities for high school students, and I encourage you to do research. It’s so much fun!”

Established nationally in 1964, the TRIO Upward Bound Program currently runs 700 chapters across the United States, and serves 48,000 underrepresented students each year.

– Brittany Hook


Related Image Gallery: Upward Bound 2015

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