Monterey’s Aquarium hub for passionate students

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the peninsula’s most influential sites, attracting locals and tourists alike. Many people within our community are heavily involved with the aquarium through research, volunteering and other activities.

Senior Kent Burns is one such student who has dedicated immense amounts of time to the institute, totaling over 560 hours. Burns has been part of the Team Conservation Leader Program and sleepover staff for the past three years.

Students apply for the program and go through an intensive two-week training program for training. The application window for the program just passed, so students with interest can apply next year. Out of roughly 3,050 applicants, just 80 are selected for the program.

After the training, students have many different ways they can help out with the aquarium. Burns, for example, decided to help out with supervising overnight sleepovers for visiting groups of up to 500 people, as well as helping with bat ray feedings and other aquarium activities during the day.

The aquarium has a far-reaching influence, and its program attract many different students from various backgrounds, both local and international.

Kent Burns shares his marine expertise with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's guests.

Kent Burns shares his marine expertise with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s guests.

“[You’re working with] a kid that breeds seahorses in his basement, [and] you’re the kid that’s like, ‘I like fish!’” Burns explains, smiling. “There are kids from India…Vermont and Watsonville. It’s really fun!”

Burns also addresses the vast influence of the aquarium extending beyond our local community: “I think a lot of people take our aquarium for granted because [they] live here.”

In an effort to expand its impact, the aquarium recently purchased two adjoining buildings walking distance from the main site for $12.4 million. The buildings, located at Cannery Row 585 and 625, were bought by the aquarium to promote science education among youth.

As announced on the aquarium’s Twitter page, “We’ve always known we can do far more in reaching and teaching students and educators about the oceans, given the right space.”

The aquarium has officially announced that building 625 will be used to house an Ocean Education and Leadership Center.

While the center will primarily allow more opportunities for students on the peninsula, it will also double the amount of teachers who participate in the organization. A total of 1,200 educators will be associated with the aquarium once the project is complete.

Executive director of the aquarium Julie Packard also explains that the new facility will allow schools to bring students to the lab for an informative, staff-facilitated experience. The aquarium also expresses optimism that the center will help local schools meet Next Generation Science Standards.

The ultimate goal of this step for the aquarium is to widen its already large influence and help foster the interests of a greater number of students by providing them with more opportunities and higher quality experiences.

“We have a crisis in science and environmental education right now,” Packard observes. “Society’s success will depend on today’s young people.”

The Ocean Education and Leadership Center, set to open this fall, will provide yet another way that these young people can follow their passions into the world of science.

-Evan Patel