OPIHI Graduate Assistant

Jessica Schaefer

“OPIHI is a wonderful marriage of science and education for me. It provides the rewarding personal connections and feel-good satisfaction that I miss when only focusing on scientific research.”

Hometown

Greendale, Wisconsin

Department:

Curriculum Research and Development Group (CRDG)

Degree:

MS in Zoology Student (Department of Biology)

What is OPIHI?
OPIHI is a citizen science program where secondary school students monitor rocky intertidal areas in Hawai‘i. The main scientific purpose of this project is to rigorously monitor Hawai‛i’s intertidal to determine if and how the organisms have changed since the original OPIHI surveys from more than 10 years ago.

Students, from 5th–12th grade classes, are tasked with a job too big for any graduate student or single research team. They monitor the biodiversity of Hawai’i’s rocky intertidal, the zone along the coast exposed to the air during low tide and submerged by the ocean at high tide, using the same methods and procedures utilized by ecologists.

What is your current position?
I am currently involved in preparing a scientific publication assessing the changes in Hawaiian intertidal communities (including the abundance of invasive species), something unachievable without the help of the hundreds of students across the state. In the past two years, approximately 80 classes from 45 schools have collected data at 38 different locations on six islands!

How did you become interested in the OPIHI program?
My own marine research career began in the rocky intertidal of Panamá, where I studied the mating system of the giant limpet Siphonaria gigas. So, when I heard about a project devoted to the Hawaiian intertidal during my first year in graduate school, I was keen to get involved. After being invited once, I began attending OPIHI meetings regularly as a volunteer/groupie, which turned into a graduate assistantship the next semester.

Has your experience working with OPIHI influenced your educational or career path?
Working with OPIHI solidified my desire to incorporate education into my career. I love working with teachers and students, especially going out into the field with them. My experience with OPIHI has also broadened my view of what a career involving education can look like. I definitely plan to stay involved in citizen science because I think it is great way for scientists to connect with the general public and for students to get excited about what they learn in class.

What are your future plans?
After completing my master’s at UH, I plan to apply for PhD programs in Biology. Ultimately, I see myself teaching at a small university, continuing to do research in ecology and evolution, and staying heavily involved in educational outreach and citizen science.

Read more from Jessica’s blog story on the Science Communicators ‛Ohana website.

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