“Welcome Aboard!” said Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, as the programs launched their first ever “Student Onboarding” event. Fellows and interns funded by Georgia Sea Grant and Public Service and Outreach made their way to the coast for a two-day immersion experience to gain a better understanding of Georgia’s coast, Sea Grant and the extension model.

“The purpose of the student onboarding process is to extend a warm welcome to our students, introduce them to our faculty and staff and ensure that the students have ample knowledge about UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant,” said Risse, later summarizing the event. “We hope to better ground our students in the role that our programs play in addressing coastal and marine issues related to Georgia.”

The 2015 student cohort working with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is comprised of three Knauss Marine Policy Fellows, four Marine Education interns, three Public Service and Outreach graduate assistants, a communications graduate assistant and undergraduate intern and two legal fellows with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. They offer a breadth of experience in a wide variety of disciplines including ecology, law, marine science, business, education and journalism.

The students, accompanied by director Mark Risse and associate director Mona Behl, were first introduced to UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant staff and faculty in Athens before heading down to Savannah for a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the facilities at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island. While there, Shellfish Research Laboratory director Tom Bliss gave an overview of the thriving oyster hatchery and UGA Aquarium curator Devon Dumont led a shrimp trawl aboard R/V SeaDawg.

The next day, students got a first-hand look at some of the Georgia Sea Grant-funded research projects, all of which address critical coastal and environmental issues. The group then visited the Marine Extension facility in Brunswick, which included a walking tour of the EcoScapes Demonstration Garden and an overview of UGA’s leadership in issues related to fisheries, water quality, sustainable coastal development and coastal resilience. The trip concluded with a visit to Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources where students learned about collaborative efforts among the programs.

“Since the onboarding, I’ve been excited to share with students the research underway on black gill and marine debris,” said Kayla Clark, a 2015-2016 Georgia Sea Grant Marine Education Intern. “The onboarding helped me connect with researchers, extension agents, fellow Sea Grant staff and PSO faculty from throughout the state. I am now better able to direct public questions toward relevant resources and people within Marine Extension and Sea Grant.”

Knauss Fellow Laura Early takes a look at the growing oysters.

Knauss Fellow Laura Early takes a look at the growing oysters.

The 2015 Student Onboarding trip kicks-off an annual tradition of creating “student ambassadors” who can represent and advance UGA’s mission as a Sea Grant institution.

“Since many of these students work in Athens or Washington, D.C., it’s often difficult for some of them to truly grasp the impacts that Georgia Sea Grant and UGA Marine Extension have on coastal Georgia’s residents and environment,” said Risse. “With this new onboarding experience, students can now not only put names with faces but can also gain a real understanding of the important roles these programs play in addressing pressing issues related to Georgia’s coast.”