Two high school students from Labrador are back in class feeling a little wiser. Kassidy Russell of Mary’s Harbour and Jailen Spurrell of Labrador City are in senior high school. The two spent the summer working at the Fisheries and Marine Institute under the Women in Science and Engineering Newfoundland and Labrador (WISE NL) Student Summer Employment Program (WISE SSEP).
Each has their sights set on careers in medicine and animal science, respectively and took the summer employment opportunity to delve into their interests before making final decisions about their post-secondary education.
“WISE SSEP is more than just a summer job,” said Susan Fudge, one the student’s supervisors at MI and President of WISE NL. “In addition to the valuable work experience gained by employment in a science and engineering related field, participants benefit from weekly activities which expose them to the wide range of education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics available to them.”
Ms. Russell and Ms. Spurrell worked at MI’s School of Fisheries, in the Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development (CASD) and the Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research (CFER) and no two days were the same – something that impressed the duo.
“We worked mainly with CASD and CFER,” said Ms. Spurrell. “Every day was different and we were always involved in something new – we measured and dissected green crabs, extracted otoliths from capelin larvae, analyzed plankton under a microscope and got to experience a day of field work with a fish harvester in Long Harbour – and that was just at CFER.”
At CASD, they were responsible for feeding rainbow trout in the aquaculture facility and testing the tanks for water quality. They also helped conduct a study to increase the shelf life of mussels.
On the community engagement side, the students worked with local municipalities and organizations to organize clean-ups in their areas as part of MI OceanNet’s Province Wide Cleanup Challenge. They also accompanied a group of students on a boat trip, where they learned about ROVs and other underwater vehicles and how they’re used.
“The Cleanup Challenge was a very rewarding project to be part of,” said Ms. Russell. “Not only was it a chance to help the environment, but we got to practice our interpersonal skills through communication with people all over the province.”
The placement was very practical and the two had numerous opportunities to get hands-on.
“Once we were showed how to complete a task, we were encouraged to go ahead and do the work on our own,” said Ms. Spurrell. “It was very empowering to be trusted – knowing that helpful experts were not too far if we needed them.”
When they weren’t in the lab or at the aquaculture facility, Ms. Russell and Ms. Spurrell were spending time with fellow WISE SSEP participants and representatives from WISE NL.
As part of the program, the students benefit from workplace tours, site visits, development activities, guest speakers, networking opportunities, and social activities with young women their age from across Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We got to visit local science and engineering facilities, network and take part in professional development activities,” said Ms. Spurrell. “WISE NL also planned fun networking events like whale watching and a paint night.”
The student’s experiences were strengthened by the relationships they developed, especially with their supervisors, CFER’s Kiley Best and Susan Fudge and CASD’s Tracey Granter.
“WISE SSEP is not just about exploring the areas you are interested in,” said Ms. Fudge. “It’s just as much about learning about the things or areas you aren’t interested in. We were very impressed with how eager Kassidy and Jailen were to learn and take on the tasks we put forward.”
It was the support they received from their supervisors and the team at MI that really topped it all off for the Ms. Russell and Ms. Spurrell.
“Kiley, Susan and Tracy were fantastic and we would not have asked for a better experience,” said Ms. Spurrell. “Everyone at the Marine Institute was welcoming and really helpful. It was really great to work with such a talented and professional team.”
“CFER has been a part of the WISE SSEP program for five years now and it is refreshing to train eager students while contributing to the solidification of their interest in science and their pursuits at such an early stage while they are still considering all their options after high school,” said Ms. Best.
As for how the experience has shaped their career plans, Ms. Russell enjoyed working in a marine environment but is still focused on studying medicine next year. Ms. Spurrell has two years left of high school but notes that her WISE SSEP and MI experiences have solidified her ambition of working with marine life in the future.
WISE NL is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization that seeks to increase the participation of young and adult women in rewarding and exciting careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The Student Summer Employment Program (WISE SSEP) offers students first-hand experience the fields of science and engineering. WISE SSEP is a seven week paid work commitment in July and August. Positions vary yearly and are dependent on funding. They are located in St. John’s and surrounding areas, Central, Bonavista, West Coast and Labrador. This summer, approximately 50 students were placed under the WISE SSEP program.