MaST needs counselors for summer camp

By Andrew Jokela - Staff Reporter



MaST is looking for camp counselors for their upcoming day camp, held July 9-13.

Each year, Highline's Marine Science and Technology (MaST) Center holds a summer science camp for kids entering fourth through sixth grade.

MaST wants anybody with an interest in science, a passion for learning, and the ability to mentor to apply to be a camp counselor. It helps to have prior experience teaching or tutoring, but none is necessary.

If this sounds appealing, email Katy Kachmarik at kkachmarik@highline.edu. Applications for counselors are due May 25.

The camp teaches kids about the Puget Sound, its inhabitants, and the impact humans have on the environment.

For example, counselors lead campers on a walk along the beach at low tide, and spend time talking about each habitat type, how local animals utilize them, threats the environments might face, and how we can help.

Summer camp will be held daily from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. during this week. Counselors are expected to arrive an hour prior, and leave 30 mins after, each day.

Typical activities for campers include intertidal exploration, animal identification, and creative writing.

Rus Higley, the director of MaST, said that they've been running these camps for more than 10 years.

To apply, students aged 8-11 must detail why the want to attend the summer camp in a one-page essay. Then, they must have a teacher give them a letter of recommendation. Finally, the students must submit a sample of their work.

"The application process is hard for kids," said Higley. "The kids have to invest in the application with their own time and energy, so the kids we get are rock-stars—and that's because they want to be here, to learn."

Sometimes, more kids apply than the camp has room for.

"It's hard turning away a kid that has put effort in, so we try to make those accommodations as best we can," Higley said.

Even then, Higley said that he tries to make the application review process as fair as possible.

"We grade third graders against third graders, fourth graders against fourth graders, and so on, because the writing ability is significantly different," said Higley.

This year, the theme of the camp is Science Beyond the Surface, where campers will focus on the methods researchers use to explore the natural environment.

"The reason Puget Sound is so murky is because it's full of life," said Higley. "We have the biggest sea stars in the world. We have the biggest octopus in the world."

One of the challenges scientists face is observing these creatures without disturbing their environment or succumbing to underwater pressure.

This year, kids will build remote-operated vehicles (ROVs), which are essentially underwater drones, to explore the underwater area around Redondo Beach. Some teams may even compete to retrieve a geological sample from the sea floor.

"When you want to explore the deep ocean, that's the kind of equipment you use," Higley said. "The logistics of life support at 20,000 feet is really hard."

This technology is currently used by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Teams of scientists gather to view live feeds of the bottom of the ocean from these drones.

In the past month, NOAA researchers successfully used this technology to discover a new species of squid, which has not yet been named.

Katy Kachmarik, the education and outreach coordinator for MaST, said that her favorite part of the summer camp is showing kids how to look at plankton under a microscope.

Plankton is a broad term to describe microscopic organisms which usually photosynthesize and drift on the tide. These creatures comprise the bottom of the food chain in Puget Sound.

"Generally these animals are small and hard to see, but we give students the opportunity to use a microscope to see what they look like close up," said Kachmarik. "At any given time, there can be ten shouts of 'So cool!' and 'What is this?'"

Many kids use a microscope for their first time at MaST's summer camp.

"Most students understand that giant whales eat small animals," Kachmarik said. "It's not until they use the microscope that they make the connection between the predator/prey interaction."

Campers will also have the opportunity to perform a necropsy on a marine mammal. A necropsy is an animal autopsy, used to determine how the animal died.

"Campers seem to really enjoy learning about the anatomy and behavior of local marine mammals through a hands-on discovery," said Kachmarik.

"This is also a cool opportunity because parents of campers are invited to attend so students get the chance to learn from counselors and involve their parents in this lifelong learning opportunity," Kachmarik said.

"We've always been about getting the public involved with the MaST center. It's always been one of our core beliefs," said Rus Higley.

MaST also functions as one of the three public aquariums in the Puget Sound area. Most visitors spend one to two hours visiting on a Saturday, and can see more than 250 species of aquatic life. Unlike most aquariums, MaST is completely free to the public.

"Does MaST do public outreach? Absolutely. 20,000 visitors last year says we do," Higley said.

To learn more about MaST, or their summer camp, please visit mast.highline.edu or drop by in-person at 28203 Redondo Beach Dr, in Des Moines.

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