My STEP Project was serving as a student worker for The Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie. My main tasks involved preparing food for the students and staff on the island, maintaining the island for visitors and guests, and working at the Aquatic Visitor’s Center (AVC) and helping children fish. I also had the opportunity to sit in on talks about the research that is done on Lake Erie and learn how much of an impact Stone Lab has on the lake.
The various tasks as a Student Assistant at Stone Lab definitely kept me on my toes and required me to adapt to the changes of the day. I also was able to learn more about the island, the laboratory, and the people that maintained it and worked there, even when classes were not in session. While working I took a five-week Animal Behavior class on the island. The course I took was a topic that I have been interested in for years and Stone Lab allowed me to have a hands on approach to concepts that were taught in class.
Being at Stone Lab taught me the importance of the laboratory itself and the research that goes on around Lake Erie. During my training for the AVC, I learned about the different types of fish that live around Lake Erie and had to know how to identify them if any of the children caught one. While learning about the fish I also learned about the invasive species in Lake Erie that were displacing the native fish. The talks given by researchers each week gave me a chance to see all the research that was going into removing the species and improving Ohio’s water quality.
Working also gave me the chance to operate some of the boats on the island in order to get from Gibraltar Island to Put-in Bay (PIB) depending on where I was working for the day. Even after being trained on how to properly operate the boats and dock them I was pretty nervous on driving one over to Put-in Bay, so I let the more experienced drivers take control for the most part while I sat back and watched what they did. Unfortunately, I only had one opportunity to watch before I was tasked with taking one of the managers over to PIB and after an interesting docking attempt, I don’t think he ever rode with me again. Sometimes I was pulled from a job that I was doing to complete another task that was more important for that day, which also required me to drive between the islands by myself and I had to get pretty good, in order to avoid crashing in Lake Erie. Although I’m clearly not ready for any sort of captain’s license, I am confident enough to operate an outboard boat at any time.
Taking Animal Behavior not only helped me get four credits of my major done, but it also gave me a better perspective into my field. For the past few years I have talked about how much I wanted to learn more about animal behavior and possible go on and pursue it as a career. For the class were required to spend ten hours observing an animal and then writing a research paper about a certain aspect of a behavior that was displayed. Gibraltar Island and Put-in Bay only really have a few species of birds, snakes, and fish, and after spending hours observing the foraging and eating behaviors or robins I can say that I still want to do research in animal behavior but not with any sort of bird. Working and classes helped me work on balancing my life as I had class from eight to four on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and worked Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for at least eight hours. I initially didn’t think I could take up the load of studying to pass my class, working every other day, and socializing with others at Stone Lab without being exhausted but by the second week I found a rhythm that carried me through the rest of my time there.
My experience as a student worker helped me personally with balancing the tasks in my life and learning that repetition helps build confidence, even if it means bumping the dock a little too hard the first couple times out. It also allowed me to work on soft skills as I interacted with guests who came to visit the AVC. Academically, not only did I knock a few credits out, but I learned so much more about the importance of Lake Erie to Ohio in terms of its economy and its water quality. Professionally, I was able to learn that while I do want to eventually go into research, I do not want to spend my time discussing fish or birds and would prefer exotic animal research instead.