As a freshman in University of New Haven’s Marine Biology Program, you’ll discover quickly that when the program description says “Jump Right In,” take it literally. UNH’s proximity to the Long Island Sound (a marine biologist’s paradise) combined with their “hands on” philosophy of learning create a one-of-a-kind experience for students to begin exploring, developing, and using techniques to become world-class marine scientists.
UNH’s experiential style of learning shines in the marine biology program which was spearheaded and designed by Dr. Carmela Cuomo. Cuomo built the program from the ground up, and she did it with this in mind: “Most students at other schools have to wait until their junior year to start marine biology courses. Not at UNH—we start students off as first semester freshmen in a marine field methods course.” When asked why, she put it quite simply: “Because not every student knows with certainty they want to do marine biology. This way, if they decide they’d rather be in sports management, they don’t waste two years deciding this. They know after their first semester.”
Students in the field methods course are taken into the field every Friday—or, on average, at least three hours a week. This means that they not only understand theoretically what the fundamentals of marine biology look like, but they experience it first-hand, the results of which pay off—literally.
Chart Your Course as a Marine Biology Major
Because students become familiar with field gear, the proper use of equipment, and sampling techniques, many of them are able to land paying internships after only one year in the program. “They can not only apply for internships, but they can get them, because they can actually say ‘I’ve worked with this equipment before.’ ‘I’ve used this sampling technique already,’” Cuomo says.
The second semester in the marine biology program is equally as important as the first, and just as hands on, though in a different way. While students are immersed in the field during their first semester, UNH brings the field to them during their second. Every week between one and two guest speakers come to address the class. While one week a photojournalist may come to speak, the next they may hear from an environmental lawyer. Students are expected to write reflective papers after hearing from each speaker; this engages them in the question ‘what part of marine biology do I want to pursue?’
The options available to UNH Marine Biology students are virtually limitless; by the time they graduate, students not only understand theoretically how a certain field works, but they can cite real life experience on their resume. And the best part? It all starts freshman year.
Valerie Dunham is a freelance writer and frequent contribtor to Smart College Visit.