Andy Oppliger began his story with Stone Lab earlier than most. Frequent visitors of Kelleys Island, his family often took the local ferry to Gibraltar Island. Andy spent his time there fishing and taking tours of Stone Lab’s Aquatic Visitors Center. Intrigued by the diversity of Lake Erie fish, as well as Stone Lab’s hands-on approach to learning, Andy found himself returning to the island again and again.
“I visited there plenty of times; I was very familiar with it,” Andy said, “I always wanted to get back up to Stone Lab and give back.”
From the beginning of his college career, Andy quickly found himself as a student of science, and immediately began networking so that he could pursue research in his undergraduate studies. Andy was drawn to the research opportunities available at Stone Lab, and from early on he was focused on making his way back to the island. As he developed his plan to return to Stone Lab, Andy made various connections through his projects at The Ohio State University. He studied under Dr. Suzanne Grey, who guided Andy in his foundational research studies and assisted him with his return to Stone Lab.
Before long, Andy was making headway at Stone Lab, and quickly adapting to the independent research opportunities that his instructor provided. As a student in Stone Lab courses and a researcher through the lab’s Research Experience for Undergraduate Scholarship (REU) program, Andy was engaged in projects he oversaw himself.
“It’s invaluable getting that hands-on research experience,” Andy said, “It’s really unique for an undergrad to have the opportunity to work toward the completion of a project that you started.”
After graduation, Andy moved to study aquatic science at the University of Washington. He soon realized after his transition into heavily mathematical research that his passion was left on Gibraltar Island with Stone Lab. In March 2020, Andy made the decision to move back from the University of Washington and pursue a mixture of research and education — one that would allow him to return to Stone Lab as a biological field station assistant.
“You get this wide breadth of knowledge from different areas of expertise. That’s something that’s really valuable, and has allowed me to broaden what I consider,” Andy said, “I was a fisheries person, but you look across the hall and there’s herpetology scientists, water quality laboratory scientists, teachers and educators working there every day.”
Since 2020, Andy has remained at Stone Lab, and is the current coordinator of Stone Lab’s Aquatic Visitors Center, the very same one that he visited as a child. Now, he oversees children that stand in the same position he once did, and provides them with the same hands-on experience.
“I was one of the kids out there,” Andy said, “I was fishing, taking a tour of the Aquatic Visitors Center, just seeing Stone Lab’s research facilities; I remember thinking how cool it would be to one day get back up to the island and have a chance to take part in the science.”
Andy’s passion for making sure his students receive the same encouraging experience that he did as a child inspires his young scientists daily. He empathizes with the children’s enthusiasm for learning and is able to guide them from the classroom into a much bigger world of science.
“You’re actually taking part in what scientists do on a daily basis, and I think that’s really impactful with students,” Andy said, “It’s very obvious, you can see on their faces— they get a little bit more into the science and are always eager to volunteer. I think that’s a really cool thing, as an educator, to see that switch right from ‘this is class’ to ‘this is what science actually can be.’”