By Bethany Holtz, MS&T Editor
It is 12:30 in the afternoon and students from the Marine Ecology class have gathered during their lunch hour to discuss the last section of “Song for the Blue Ocean” before Skyping with author Carl Safina later in the afternoon.
It is not in every class that you find students ea-gerly giving up their lunch to discuss class readings. And it is certainly not in every class that you find the opportunity to speak with a famous author, but that just speaks to the quality of experiential learning that Professor Wendy Piniak provides for her students.
Over the last sev-eral weeks the students of ES306 have been using their weekly lab time to discuss the marine policy and ecological issues of the 90s as described in Song for the Blue Ocean. Song for the Blue Ocean is the first of Dr. Safina’s six books, which highlights adventures from Safina’s fact-finding tours in the Northeast, Pacific North-west and tropical Pacific.
Class discussions have given students the unique opportunity to explore the changes or lack of changes made on marine issues outlined in Dr. Safina’s book since its publication in 1999. Students have had the opportunity to investigate issues such as the over-fishing of Bluefin Tuna, destruction of salmon migration routes, and the complex ramifications of tropical fishing.
Dr. Safina’s Skype session allowed students to ask the author first-hand about his book, as well as some of his more recent research. The takeaway message of Dr. Safina’s chat, however, veered far from his research and book. Safina now the author of roughly 200 scientific and popular publications and the head of his own re-search institute, The Safina Center, prides himself on communicating a love of the ocean.
The motto of his re-search institute is to “in-spire a deeper connection with nature…to translate scientific information into a language people can un-derstand and serves as a unique voice of hope, guid-ance, and encouragement.”
Dr. Safina shared, “It is the job of scientists to make new information and communicate it.” As bud-ding scientists head into a variety of fields, Safina stressed the need to be effective communicators, in addition to brilliant sci-entists.
Safina offered, “In science you are taught a lot a jargon. Jargon is like a secret handshake that lets some people in and keeps other people out.” It is the job of current and future scientists to remember that it is just as important to uncover facts as it is to communicate to the public, policy makers, and fellow researchers.
As the students learned in speaking with Dr. Safina, his success as a scientist and a researcher stems from his ability to communicate and appeal to a wide variety of audienc-es. He doesn’t just travel the world searching for the exotic environmental problems, he searches for a story. As Dr. Safina points out, “It’s not the information that makes people care. It’s the story.”
Safina’s research and passion lies in the depths of the ocean and the creatures that inhabit it but the advice he offers to students extends far beyond big blue sea. Effective communica-tion delivered in modes as captivating as Safina’s stories, articles, videos, and other publications has the power to change the face of science, policy making and the world at large.
It is not every day that undergrads get the oppor-tunity to talk to renowned authors and it not’s every day they offer you the key to tackling the world’s problems.
As Dr. Safina’s shares, “There is no point in worrying about the future but there is a point is working on it.”