Posted: January 14, 2013
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Alumni Profile: SJ Byce

Turks and Caicos Islands

I left the island of South Caicos in December of 2010, and my journeys since — from South Caicos to Virginia to North Carolina to Idaho to Chile — have all involved, in some way, a continuation of the academic projects and experiential leaning principles introduced to me at the SFS Center for Marine Resources.

It wasn’t easy to say goodbye. I had some truly incredible experiences. One day, as we were driving in the Zodiac out to our dive site, a school of dolphins swam by and began to surf along in front and behind our boat. We raced them for a bit, then stopped the boat and quickly donned our snorkel gear and jumped overboard. Everyone practiced their dolphin swimming techniques as the dolphins played alongside us.

But eventually, the time came to head back to my home school, the University of Richmond. I was able to use the research I had conducted at SFS, the relationship between stony corals and macroalgae as influenced by herbivorous fishes, as the basis for my Honors Biochemistry Thesis. Before graduation, I presented before the biology department.

With my newly acquired Bachelor of Science degree in hand, I moved from Richmond to the coast of North Carolina to work as a marine educator for Sea Turtle Camp, a summer program for middle school and high school campers that combines  marine biology lessons, volunteering at a local sea turtle hospital, and visits to aquariums and surf lessons.  It’s a high energy, fun program with an experiential learning structure. I loved teaching lessons where my students would crawl on the beach to imitate a mama turtle’s nesting practice.

I continued to pursue this kind of hands-on learning, eventually finding my way to the Alzar School in Cascade, Idaho, a semester program for high school students with the motto: “When we need a classroom, the world awaits.” I am currently working here as a Teaching Fellow — mentoring, tutoring and teaching students. My specialties are college prep, algebra, wilderness medicine, physical health and activity, and I even taught a seminar on free diving.

Part of the Alzar School curriculum is a six-week expedition through Chile. While there, we traveled quite a bit. Some days were spent in homestays with daytime classes at a local Chilean school. I helped to instruct pre-kindergarten with the teacher I was living with, while also shadowing high school classes with my students. Other times we would camp as a group and have classes at our campsite in the mornings, then paddle a section of whitewater in the afternoons.

On one of our final days we saw a triple rainbow over a gorgeous lake. The awe-inspiring vision brought me back to the numerous, incredible rainbows I saw in South Caicos over the gorgeous Caribbean waters.

Both at the Alzar School campus in Idaho and throughout their cultural immersion program in Chile, I challenge my students to make connections between class lessons and outdoor surroundings.  For example, I helped to teach Wilderness Medicine classes to our students and often challenged them with accident scenarios when we were hiking or backpacking.

In the spring I will be working as a Marine Educator at MarineLab in Key Largo, Florida, teaching reef, mangrove and seagrass ecology lessons to visiting school groups. I hope to begin a marine ecology-based graduate program in the next few years.

Finally, back to the ocean!

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