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DHS crew studies aboard Navy ship in Gulf of Mexico

August 19, 2003

Two Danville High School students and their science teacher spent three days aboard a Navy ship this summer in a program developed by the Navy to make the United States first in the world in math and science education.

Senior Ben Carter, sophomore Jared Smith, and Dr. Michael Lauer left Danville early on a Sunday morning in June for their long drive to the coast of Mississippi. Although they had known about their trip for quite some time, they were not allowed to discuss their departure date or location with anyone. The Navy requires that the information be kept secret until departure for security reasons.

The three studied aboard a T-AGS 60 vessel, the USNS Mary Sears, as part of the Oceans Alive program.

"I learned how the ship works, and how the whole crew works together to man it," said Smith.

"It's not just the captain running the ship. It was impressive to see all of the technology, but I also learned that the crew has to rely on old manual techniques as well. There are times when they have to use stars, a sexton and a compass to guide the ship rather than their impressive technology."

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Oceans Alive combines classroom lectures and hands-on learning to show students how math and science skills are needed for creative thinking, decision-making, and problem solving. It also encourages students to pursue careers in oceanography and teaches them how the Navy collects and processes oceanographic data.

Carter said his main reason for going was to help him make a career decision. "I'll study marine biology, oceanography or chemistry when I go to college."

Smith wants to be an engineer. Many of the instructors on the ship had engineering degrees. "I will look into oceanography because of the engineering portion of it. I enjoyed mapping the ocean floor and watching the engines being controlled."

Smith described some of their other research. "At one point, we sifted through ocean mud. They lowered a shovel-like device called a dredge to the ocean flood and scooped some mud for us to study. Another time, they dragged a plankton net. We put the net's contents into petrie dishes and studied it through microscopes. We saw some tiny fish that were clear, and you could see their hearts beating."

The program was developed in 1998 because the founders thought it ironic that the states that rank first in the world for oceanographic resources rank last in the United States in math and science education.

During the three-day program, participants studied six core classes: biological oceanography, geological oceanography, physical oceanography, meteorology, acoustics and bathymetry.

But the most important information was shared as soon as the students set foot on the vessel - nothing is more important than safety.

According to Carter, as soon as each individual arrived, they were shown their rooms and told to find two ways to reach the deck immediately. After everyone arrived, they were taught how to use safety equipment, what to do in case of fire and abandon ship emergencies, and lifeboat drills.

For many, it was their first time at sea.

Dr. Lauer recalled one boy who "seemed in awe of the amount of water and wondered how it would be once they were out in the waters unable to see land. But once we left port, he did a great job of focusing on what was going on, and everything went well."

"We developed a sort of camaraderie with students and teachers from other states," said Lauer. "Each of us shared a room with a stranger, and we were divided into groups for study. There were three other high schools represented."

Danville High School Principal Angela Johnson was excited that her students had the opportunity to participate. According to Johnson, it was pure luck they were able to go. She saw one of the founders, former Danville student Donald Durham, at an alumni association banquet last year held to honor distinquished alumni. While he was there being honored, he encouraged Johnson to submit applications for some of her students.

This article was contributed by Melanie Ansorge, director of public relations for the Danville school system.



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