Peru, Cambodia, Greece and… Put-in-Bay, Ohio? It may not sound exotic to those who hail from nearby, but eight Girl Scouts from all over the United States were excited to sign up for a week at Stone Lab’s Gibraltar Island, a new trip available in the Girl Scouts Destinations program. Girl Scouts Destinations gives girls in grades 6 to 12 the chance to travel and have unique opportunities and experiences related to their personal interests, said Emily Fein, who is chief operating officer and director of girl experience for Girl Scouts of North East Ohio.
A few years ago, when Fein was challenged by her supervisors to host a Destinations trip, Stone Laboratory immediately came to mind. “I thought it would be a great fit. There are programs there for youth and college students, and The Ohio State University is such a fabulous research institution,” Fein said. “It all just came together for us.”
She worked with Ohio Sea Grant Program Administrator Erin Monaco and Education and Outreach Specialist Sue Bixler to create a schedule that was a blend of Stone Lab’s college-credit course, Introduction to Biology – Aquatic Biology, and fun activities such as kayaking and fishing. Monaco and Bixler were the group’s Stone Lab guides for the week in July 2017, accompanied by two Girl Scout leader chaperones.
Though the girls ranged in age from 14 to 18, they quickly bonded with each other over their shared interest in science and enthusiasm about the activities. Monaco and Bixler led the students on a science cruise (similar to the ones taken by students who come to Stone Lab on field trips), to inland streams and rivers on the Ohio mainland to look for macroinvertebrates, and to Kelleys Island to see the glacial grooves and hunt for fossils.
One girl was so enthralled with the geology segment of the trip that she seemed to have found her calling. “They weren’t sure she would make it on the plane because she had so many rocks to take home,” Fein joked.
The girls also had to prepare and present a short talk on a water-related issue in their hometown and propose a solution to help solve the problem – one of the requirements that helped them earn the Ambassador Water badge over the course of the week.
Carmen Reddick, 18, a Girl Scout from the Portland, Oregon area, applied for the trip because she plans to major in marine biology. She had previously attended a Girl Scouts Destinations trip to Costa Rica and Panama helping endangered sea turtle populations and thought Stone Lab’s location on Lake Erie and emphasis on freshwater biology would help round out her college applications.
“Lake Erie is so beautiful,” said Carmen, who had never visited the Great Lakes before. “Every time I looked out on it, I would say ‘the ocean, I mean, the lake.’ It was so big, it boggled my mind.”
But the scenery was just an unexpected bonus for Carmen, who was thrilled to wade in streams looking for macroinvertebrates, handle the friendly Stone Lab outreach snakes and go fishing for the very first time. One of the most impactful segments of the trip for her was a visit with Sarah Lowe, Great Lakes regional coordinator for NOAA Marine Debris.
Lowe met with the students at the Aquatic Visitors Center, where they viewed the marine debris display and talked about how plastics degrade and get smaller, but never truly decompose. Then the students helped with a beach clean-up at nearby South Bass Island State Park, where Carmen and a friend waded into Lake Erie to retrieve some debris.
It made a lasting impression, Carmen said. She now plans to pursue her Gold Award – the highest award available to Girl Scouts – by enacting a plan to install recycling bins along the promenade at the beach near her hometown in Oregon.
“I came back reinvigorated,” Carmen said. “The plan is to raise awareness so people pick up those (pieces of litter) and put them in the recycling bin. It will hopefully work to clean up our beaches. I’m in the very preliminary steps, but I’m feeling really passionate about it.”
Fein said Stone Lab – with Monaco, Bixler and Stone Lab Education and Outreach Coordinator Dr. Kristin Stanford – was an inspiration to the girls. “They saw people that were like them and women who were involved in science beyond their high school experience,” she said. “All the girls really wanted to be there. They were all really interested in the content. I think for many of them, it really helped solidify their current paths as far as their interests.”
The week was so successful that the Girl Scouts Destinations program will return to Stone Lab again in 2019, and Fein said girls have already begun applying for that trip.
For her part, Monaco said she relished the chance to share the unique beauty and resources the lab has to offer with a group of students who were wholly unfamiliar with the Great Lakes.
“It was also life-changing for me,” she said. “It energized me and reminded me, ‘This is why I’m doing this – to pass this information on to the next generation.’”
Groups interested in planning a similar trip to Stone Lab should contact Kristin Stanford at email@example.com.