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USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Finding My Career Through This Course

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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By Iñaki Pedroarena-Leal

As a student and developing scholar, I consider my transition from the classroom setting to the real world—as many mentors and peers matter-of-factly call it. One of my majors, Environmental Studies, is figuring in this transition as I accumulate knowledge from course work and research. I am developing my own scientific persona as well as environmental concerns, which blended with my family’s century-long history of agriculture in Baja California, México, motivates me to enter the marine aquaculture industry in Latin America. I intend to take full advantage of this course, as I prepare with my fellow students for our expedition to the coral reefs of Micronesia.

The author preparing for his first NITROX dive in practice for an extended bottom time, allowing for more research (Photo by Iñaki Pedroarena-Leal)

The author preparing for his first NITROX dive in practice for an extended bottom time, allowing for more research (Photo by Iñaki Pedroarena-Leal)

My participation in USC Dornsife’s Environmental Studies Maymester course is teaching me rigorous scientific theory and practice relevant to marine ecosystems such as coral reefs. This is my first experience where the issues I regularly listen, learn, and study about in class are directly applied with an eye toward a real world perspective.

This expedition has become a singular opportunity for research diving, collecting valuable data and proposing ideas that will allow me to be at the forefront of what, as an environmental studies student, I should be concerning myself with—paving a transition to a career with science and empirical application. The time and effort I have invested into my university study is coming to fruition.

USC Guam and Palau SCUBA instructor Tom Carr laying a transect line along a specific compass heading on Santa Catalina Island. This transect will provide the starting point for a student navigation exercise. (Photo by Jim Haw)

USC Guam and Palau SCUBA instructor Tom Carr laying a transect line along a specific compass heading on Santa Catalina Island. This transect will provide the starting point for a student navigation exercise. (Photo by Jim Haw)

What is more significant about this field program is that the class work and data collection will not just simply determine a course grade. These data will form the basis for solutions to problems facing marine environments today. This is a turning of the tides for me as a scholar, as this course allows me to become part of the solution.

The opportunity and privilege to contribute to the scientific community also holds true for my classmates and peers. This course is designed in such a manner that members and staff of the dive team form profound connections that will certainly lead to grander opportunities, motivating me to begin formulating career-related concepts.

Tuna farming industry off the coast of Baja California, México; a portrayal of my professional goal in Latin America. (Photo by La Esquina Azul)

Tuna farming industry off the coast of Baja California, México; a portrayal of my professional goal in Latin America. (Photo by La Esquina Azul)

In collaboration with one of my dive team members, Nick Leonard, an entrepreneurial diver in his junior year, we have found a common cause in which we will both construct our professional futures in the aquaculture industry. We are taking skills acquired through this course, such as those demonstrated in the research diver portion, and further developing them as we enter the marine aquaculture industry in the near future.

This course is proving to be instrumental in my professional future. It is allowing me to not only transition from the academic world, but also to begin contributing to significant research that may very well generate answers to questions that can no longer be ignored. Now that I am immersed in a serious environmental problem, I am empowered to be an environmentalist. USC Dornsife’s Environmental Studies Maymester course is providing the tools for us to actualize our professional and entrepreneurial futures.

About the Author: Iñaki Pedroarena-Leal is a current Junior in the University of Southern California’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. He is pursuing a double B.A. in Economics and Environmental Studies. His family’s agricultural history in Baja California, México, and his deeply rooted passion for the ocean, are both instrumental in his goal of practicing the aquaculture industry in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Environmental Studies Lecturer Dave Ginsburg, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies

Previously in this series:

Catching Up with Scientific Diving at USC Dornsife: Surfgrass Monitoring at Catalina
Catching up with Scientific Diving at USC Dornsife: The Robot Submarine
Catching up with Scientific Diving at USC Dornsife: Diving into the Aquarium of the Pacific
USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Moving Forward to Guam and Palau 2012

About the Author: Dr. Jim Haw is Ray R. Irani Professor of Chemistry and director of the Environmental Studies Program in the USC Dana and Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He is also a scientific, technical and recreational diver.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. jfresh 2:37 pm 04/20/2012

    Well written article, seems like Iñaki will be able to make a profoundly positive impact on the environment.

    Link to this

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