John Hageman has worked to give K-12 students the same opportunities to experience science as he had at their age. He pulled his first fish trawl on Lake Erie as a high school sophomore during a Stone Lab field trip and he hasn’t ever forgotten the excitement. In fact, it will be what he misses the most when he retires at the end of this month.
Stone Lab has served as both a foundation for John’s interest in aquatic biology and as an outlet for his enthusiasm for science, as he watches students get excited about the same things he has been excited about for the 24 years he has served as Co-Manager of Stone Lab.
As the teaching assistant in his high school ichthyology class during 1976 and 1977, John went with the class to visit Stone Lab three times and grew more enthralled with fisheries biology each time. When his teacher heard that Ohio State University’s Center for Lake Erie Area Research (CLEAR) had an opening for a fish identification job, she recommended that John apply. His experience identifying fish honed in class and at Stone Lab prepared him well and John, a 17-year-old high school senior at the time, landed the job. The part-time position saw him receive his first paycheck from CLEAR at a humble $2.50 an hour.
"I became a very familiar fixture in the university’s zoology, natural resources, and biological sciences departments," John says. Through college and for the four years after he graduated, John identified tens of thousands of larval fish samples, collected larval fish samples in Michigan, and studied fish spawning, nutrition, and feeding.
The field work made him the winning candidate for the Stone Lab Manager position when it opened in 1987. John remembered the fundamental role his initial Stone Lab experience played in his career and he focused on building the science field trip program to spark grade school students’ interest in science. While field trip students already went out on research vessels to collect plankton samples and trawl for fish, John saw that their teachers were requesting more activities. To fill the time and make the school trips more worthwhile, John developed an invertebrate walk where students collect organisms to study them in the lab to determine water quality.
John didn’t stop there. He channeled the expertise already available at Stone Lab, and created ornithology and geology walks to study the birds and rock features on Gibraltar Island and worked with a researcher to develop an edible plants walk. He also worked with Stone Lab Co-Manager Matt Thomas and Outreach Coordinator Kristin Stanford to plan herpetology sessions, allowing students to get up close and personal with the lake’s snakes and amphibians.
"We want to get as many students to come up here as possible," John says. "Yes, it helps our bottom line, but what’s more important to me is that we can give more kids exposure to Lake Erie ecology and teach them about healthy ecosystems. I just think what would have happened if I hadn’t made those trips to Stone Lab as a high school student, or how many students have made the decision to become biology majors after coming here on field trips."
With more activities to take, schools have had more reasons to stretch their Stone Lab trips to overnight stays and under John’s leadership, the program has grown from attracting 1,300 students per year to an average of nearly 5,000 students from an average of 70 schools in four neighboring states.
"There’s probably nobody in Stone Lab’s history that has meant more to the lab than John," says Jeff Reutter, Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory Director. "We never had a more dedicated and hard-working employee than John. His focus was always entirely on enhancing our impact, improving our quality, and making room for one more student."
Without a doubt, John’s favorite part of his job is watching students’ eyes light up in nature for the first time. "Looking at a plankton sample under the microscope and seeing water flees glide across the screen, you hear them say ‘ohh,’ and ‘ahh.’ They had no idea what lives in water," he says. "And it’s exciting to see their anticipation-just like the feeling I still get-every time we pull in a fish trawl. It’s a thrill every time. That’s what I’m going to miss."