Internship Program History 2005 - 2017
Morgan State University' s Patuxent Environmental and Aquatic Research Laboratory (PEARL), located in St. Leonard MD, offers a ten week research internship for undergraduate students. The primary focus of the program is research related to the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay. Other potential subjects include resource economics, fisheries modeling and STEM education. PEARL's summer internship program began in 2005 and during its tenure, 85 students from 30 different universities have enriched their education through this very hands-on approach to research.
One of the primary missions of the PEARL internship program is to offer a research experience in the ocean/coastal sciences to underrepresented minority (URM) groups (African Americans, Hispanic, Native American and Asian/Pacific Islander). In a recent study, only 11% of the total number of BS degrees in Ocean Sciences were granted to these URM groups (1% for African Americans). Morgan State University is one of only several HBCUs that has a Marine Science Laboratory. It is therefore imperative that PEARL offer this research internship to as many MSU and other underrepresented students as possible. Thirty-two percent of the interns from 2005-2017 have been URMs and twenty-five percent of the total interns have been MSU students. We continue that trend in 2018 with two of the seven interns being URM students from MSU.
One of the MSU students from 2011 was a young woman, Tanaira Cullens. She worked with Dr. Kelton Clark, the director of PEARL at that time. Tanaira's project focused on the evaluation of using waste concrete road material as a substrate for growing young oysters. Tanaira continued her education in Environmental Science and is currently working in Baltimore in the realms of education and environmental science. She describes her experience as an intern at PEARL in the following:
In 2010 I had just finished my first year as a transfer student at Morgan State University after leaving Hampton University for financial reasons. I had no idea that a financial issue would lead me to one of my greatest and richest research experiences I would have as an undergraduate student. I transferred into Morgan with some coursework in marine and environmental science from Hampton. I was saddened that my environmental studies were being cut short due to a lack of programming as I had to switch to become a Biology major at Morgan. I came across an email from the university about an opportunity to intern at the then, Estuarine Research Center, and I was sold.
I spent the summer studying the life cycle and growth requirements for Crassostrea virginica (the Eastern Oyster) so I could work on a project about whether oyster spat could grow at the same rate on recycled concrete materials as they did on shell. This one project sparked a love for studying oysters that led to later coursework and intern projects surrounding oysters at Duke University and beyond. More than my love for the subject matter, however, my experience at PEARL taught me that my experience as a scientist was not dependent on the school I attended or my degree focus, but rather the opportunities I chose to take and make the most of. I learned how to design and construct my own research project based on a question, gather results, use the proper statistics to prove or disprove my hypotheses and confidently present them to a room of stakeholders. I appreciate the experience I had a PEARL because it not only made me an oyster girl for life, it made me a better scientist.
After completing my summer internship at PEARL, I continued to have an excellent relationship with the staff. They've suggested other programs for me to participate in, helped me network with other like minded individuals and written letters of recommendations for jobs and school programs. PEARL felt more like a family than a job site, because everyone was genuinely interested in the growth and success of each intern. I continued studying oysters as a fellow at the Duke Marine Lab, where I also traveled abroad to Singapore and Malaysia and discovered that Crassostrea virginica was also present on their coasts.
I received my Master's degree from Johns Hopkins University in Environmental Science and Policy in 2013, because I was further intrigued by how politics can affect the natural environment in both detrimental and beneficial ways. I've given numerous talks and presentations to students both as a guest speaker and as the primary teacher in middle and high schools around Baltimore on issues surrounding the local environment. I now work for Baltimore Ecosystem Study as the education assistant and Baltimore Data Jam Director working on several NSF funded projects related to the environment.
I attribute all of these opportunities both past and current, in part, to a word of advice or a letter to an employer from someone at PEARL. I would encourage any student who is looking to expand their horizons in science and join a group of people who are dedicated to the learning and continued success of its interns to apply for an internship or job at PEARL, it's helped me tremendously and I know it'll be helpful to someone else.