During the final week of July this past summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to take a course at Ohio State’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island up north on Lake Erie. The course I took was titled Intro to Aquatic Biology, and it was one of the most fun and engaging things I have done so far in college. The Sunday through Saturday course involved classroom and guest speaker lectures, but also gave students the opportunity to do learning and research in the field. For example, we went to fish hatcheries, different inland rivers, and went snorkeling around the island.
The week was a transformational experience for me because it brought forth a side of me that I didn’t know existed. A lot of the outdoor work involved getting down and dirty, such as handling fish, invertebrates, plants, and other things that I initially was not too fond of touching. In addition, at times you were forced to swim in murky waters, walk through thick mud, or deal with the always uncomfortable July weather. At first, I was a bit hesitant to immerse myself into those environments, however by the end of the week I had no trouble holding fish, getting my hands full of mud, or ruining an old t-shirt. I also gained a greater appreciation for the outdoors and those who work in it so that future generations may get to see the same beauty in nature as I do today.
I was surprised to learn on the first day that all of my classmates were younger than me, and some were still in high school. I believe that reality molded me into a leader, as I assumed the role of the older and wiser group member to whom the rest looked up to. Just as I was nervous about getting down in the mud, my classmates were even more so. However, I realized that I would need to break out of my comfort zone so that they could get involved as well. In the first few days I took the lead in several activities, which motivated several of my classmates to do the same before the week was over. After the day’s activities were over, they often asked me questions about college and life as an adult, and I did my best to give them insight from my personal experience. It wasn’t something I planned on doing, however I now take great pride in that portion of my experience at Stone Lab.
One of the most challenging aspects of the course was dealing with the hot and humid weather that comes with the month of July in northern Ohio. The dormitories that I stayed in lacked any form of air conditioning, so the only way to stay cool at night was with a personal fan. The week of the class was said to be the hottest week of the year by local meteorologists, with heat indices near 100 degrees all week long, and night-time lows dropping to around only 80 degrees. This made sleeping at night difficult at first, as I was used to air conditioning at home. However, by the end of the week I had become accustomed to sleeping in the heat, so in that way I had transformed into what I would consider to be a tougher person.
Another experience that hardened my outdoor skills was finding and catching aquatic invertebrates. While I had no trouble handling fish during the course, I was not so sure about moving through mud to find insects. I had never been a fan of mud or bugs growing up, so the reality that I had no choice but to deal with it certainly changed me. Forcing myself to move my hands through mud was at first almost unbearable, but by the end of the course it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I’m satisfied with this transformation because I now have the experience of overcoming a childhood distaste, and I feel that moving forward I can conquer any other qualms I have about different tasks that many would consider to be dirty.
One of my favorite moments during the course was when I got the opportunity to go snorkeling around the island. The goal of the activity was to see fish and other freshwater species in their natural habitats. It was also an opportunity to learn how to snorkel for any future endeavors. However during the trip, our professor pointed out something that I didn’t know about before. We saw hundreds of Gobies swimming around the bottom of the water column, but she explained that it hadn’t always been that way. Various species of Darters used to live in the same areas, however the Goby is an invasive species, and essentially drove them out of their natural habitat. I was able to expand that knowledge to encompass the threat of ecological change as a result of human settlement and industrialization in the New World. It’s one thing to learn about the dangers of invasive species in the classroom, but it’s another to see the effects up close and personal.
Another great moment of the Stone Lab experience actually occurred during my departure from the island. As we were loading up the ship and preparing to leave, a massive thunderstorm came across Lake Erie and hit the island head on. It rained heavily for the good part of an hour, and I later learned rain gauges on the island measured over three inches total. The storm delayed our departure until it passed, as the conditions on the Lake became far too rough to safely traverse in. Most of us were soaked in the downpour, as we prioritized protecting our luggage. I’m majoring in Atmospheric Sciences here at Ohio State, so while getting wet was not fun at the time, looking back now I’m glad I have the memory of being out in that storm.
I’m thankful for my time at Stone Laboratory for multiple reasons. The transformation I experienced during that one week was quite significant. I believe that I learned to toughen up when necessary, whether that involves handling gross things, fighting inclement weather conditions, or attempting to sleep with no air conditioning during the hottest week of the year. In addition, I believe the leadership skills I acquired from working with my younger classmates will help me with things in both the near and distant future. This fall is my first semester as a Resident Adviser here at Ohio State, and I have applied some of the skills I learned during that summer course in working with my residents. Down the road further, I know my leadership capabilities will be required, both in my professional life as well as my role as a parent someday.