Interest in the marine environment abounds among Long Island’s high school students. SoMAS has long had an interest in fueling and sustaining that interest while, at the same time, promoting the recruitment of top-quality students into SoMAS undergraduate degree programs. What was needed was someone with the vision and the energy to design an approach that would serve that interest. Cue Dr. Henry Bokuniewicz, Distinguished Service Professor at SoMAS. A member of the SoMAS faculty since 1977, Henry has risen through those ranks and, along the way, served the School in a variety of administrative capacities, including stints as Associate Dean for Education and Graduate Program Director. Several years ago, a ground-breaking approach was instigated by Max Strieb, science teacher in Smithtown Central School District and a 1992 alumnus of SoMAS. Together, they crafted ways that students might benefit from University coursework via a program whose logistics were manageable from the prospective of both the students and SoMAS. The resulting program works to everyone’s satisfaction and is attracting attention from a wider spectrum of teachers at area high schools.
Smithtown now offers two undergraduate-level marine science courses through SoMAS, giving students the opportunity to learn marine science with a special focus on Long Island’s estuaries. It also gives students a dose of college-level material with the opportunity to earn college credit.
Here’s how the program works. The approved syllabus for the university course is shared with the high school instructor who wishes to teach it. To date, two of SoMAS’s undergraduate courses have been used in the program, and they are both introductory courses: Long Island Sound Science and Use (MAR 101) and Oceanography (MAR 104). The instructor submits their resume and teaching experience/credentials to Bokuniewicz, who then meets with them to review the syllabus and to discuss the requirements that must be met ( intellectual rigor, number of contact hours, testing and grading, attendance policies, etc.) if students taking the course are to earn undergraduate credits at Stony Brook University. High school instructors must hold a graduate degree in the marine sciences, oceanography or a closely-allied field. Students are free to take the course “not-for-credit,” if they so choose. Qualified instructors are given a temporary appointment to the School’s adjunct faculty lecturers while Henry remains the “instructor of record” responsible to the University Registrar’s Office for the courses’ delivery and assuring that the level of instruction is meeting University standards. Says Bokuniewicz, “We have to insure that not only is the content comparable…but also that the [number of in-class] hours are appropriate and the exams are appropriate.” Students with the appropriate prerequisites register at Stony Brook through the University’s Accelerated College Education (ACE) Program and take a three credit-course over their usual, high-school academic year.
Commented Strieb through an email, “This program exposes students to a subject that they may never have experienced. Marine science on Long Island is extremely important, as we are surrounded by marine waters that play an extremely important role in our lives and economy. It also allows students to demonstrate to prospective colleges that they have been taking these advanced college-level courses while in high school.”
Strieb had been engaged in a similar program with Southampton College when that institution on the East End of Long Island was part of the privately-run Long Island University. SUNY purchased the Southampton campus in 2006. This triggered a series of discussions between Strieb and Bokuniewicz about structuring a similar program with SoMAS.
“We were really the first program to offer dual high school/college credit courses through Stony Brook University on a large scale,” said Strieb.
Word of the program has spread through the relatively small and close community of high school teachers on Long Island with a passion for marine science. Currently, courses are being offered at Smithown, Deer Park High School and literally across the street at the Stony Brook School. Massapeaqua High School will sign on for the spring 2012 semester. Bokuniewicz is talking with a high school in Idaho that had worked in the past with a local university in the Gem State, but that institution, perhaps not unexpectedly, didn’t offer oceanography. Thus, from almost a continent away, SoMAS was enlisted.
Strieb said that, this school year, eight sections of Oceanography and eight sections of Long Island Sound: Science and Use are being offered at Smithtown High School West and Smithtown High School East combined. Approximately 400 students are taking marine science courses. As noted, not every student in the classes is taking them for college credit. Of the 400 students, about 140 are registered for college credit.
Strieb, who has been teaching in Smithtown for 15 years, said the class has definitely increased student interest in marine science.
“There are some students in the classes because they need to fulfill their science requirement,” he said. “However for others–one or two a year–it really sparks an interest and they pursue it in college.” Strieb noted that the marine science courses are typically as popular among the students as Advanced Placement classes.
As taught in Smithtown High School, both MAR 101 and MAR 104 use Long Island’s environment to enrich the curriculum. “Much of the curriculum in both classes, but especially Long Island Sound: Science and Use, is based on our local estuaries,” said Strieb. “We also use materials developed specifically for Long Island. For example, many of our readings and other materials come from the Long Island Sound Study and New York Sea Grant and deal specifically with Long Island issues. In addition, we take our classes on several field trips each year. In Oceanography, our students go on boat trips into Long Island Sound and Shinnecock Bay and explore the Sunken Maritime Forest on Fire Island.” Most of the field trips involve data collection with oceanographic instrumentation and hands-on experiences for the students. Some sections have labs associated with them. When students return to the classroom, they use the data they collected to investigate trends in various local marine ecosystems.
Strieb notes, “For example, during the canoe trip, we investigate how salinity changes as we travel down the river and at different depths in the river. Graphs of the data that we make back in the classroom demonstrate the oceanography of an estuary and if timing of the tides is good, we often observe a salt wedge. On the river, we relate these changes in chemical and physical parameters to the plants and animals we see around us.”