Kicking off this spring, the National Aquarium’s Living Laboratory: What Lives in Your Harbor program will bring middle schoolers from up to 10 Baltimore City schools to help with citizen science projects, learn about the Inner Harbor's environmental health and better understand the Chesapeake Bay watershed, thanks to a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
To learn a little bit more about Living Laboratory, we sat down with the program’s lead Symone Johnson. Symone just completed the Knauss Fellowship at NOAA and was a former National Aquarium intern! We’re excited that she’s come back to the Aquarium to help steer this initiative.
Here’s our Q&A with Symone:
Tell us a little bit about your background. How did your career path bring you to apply for this position?
I am from Baltimore City, specifically Cherry Hill. I grew up not having much physical connection to the environment, or a body of water, even though the Patapsco River was in my backyard. However, I was interested in nature and watched television programs highlighting animals, fish and ecosystems, which only grew my curiosity. The summer after I completed 8th grade, I joined the Student Volunteer Program at the National Aquarium. After that experience, I went on to attend Hampton University, where I received my degree in Marine and Environmental Science and continued my graduate education at Delaware State University studying sand tiger sharks. I just completed my year as a Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow at NOAA’s Office of Education. As I was looking for next steps after the Fellowship, I was led to continue in the realm of education and was excited to know there was an opportunity here at the Aquarium where I could focus on educating students in Baltimore City.
Tell us a little bit about why you’re excited to lead the Living Laboratory program?
I was fortunate enough to attend an independent middle and high school, which allowed me to be exposed to science at a more in depth level. I was intrigued by this project because it exposes Baltimore City Public Schools students to nature and science, who otherwise may never have a similar opportunity. I believe that this exposure may serve as a catalyst to encourage students to pursue science and make them aware of how their actions can affect the watershed. This project is exemplary in that it is the first of its kind to attempt to reach an entire grade of students across a school district through a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE). I am proud to be part of this venture, especially as a Baltimore City resident.
How can interaction with nature help students learn?
Nature provides unique personal connections with people — students included. This project uses nature to teach students about history, science, math and writing. Additionally, if students can feel that they have a personal relationship with the environment around them, they will have a sense of ownership and hopefully be inclined to be stewards.
Finish this sentence, "I love what I do because..."
it makes me happy to see people inspired by what they see every day. Nature is all around us and many people do not see it. I am so humbled when I see people’s faces after hearing one of fascinating facts I share about nature. It is refreshing to see people realize that nature surrounds them and every single thing about it is amazing.
Stay tuned for more updates on Living Laboratory!