In the Aquarium Science Program, students gain hands-on knowledge and skills to prepare them for a rewarding career in aquatic animal care. Photo: E. Bjornsgard

During the past year, life as we know it has been drastically changed. Whenever you meet someone, we talk about life in terms of “pre-COVID” and “during these crazy times.” Here in the Aquarium Science Program at Oregon Coast Community College, classes moved partially or fully online, social distancing limited lab activities, and off-campus events adapted to virtual experiences.  

The annual National Visiting Committee is no different. One of the most anticipated events of the Aquarium Science program, this multiday event is typically held in-person, with representatives from several aquariums across the country make their way to Newport, Oregon. Students have the opportunity to network with professionals in the aquarium science field, present some of their projects and aquarium systems, and participate in workshops, seminars, and mock interviews.  

In light of COVID, the Aquarium Science Program staff worked diligently to set up a virtual version of this event, connecting with participating facilities from Monterey Bay Aquarium in California to the Maritime Aquarium in Connecticut, with several represented in between. While there are many challenges with adapting to previously in-person events, there was a silver lining. According to Aquarium Science Program director Larry Boles, “The main benefit is we had participants that in the past could not come due to their facilities not having finances to send the person to Newport.” He continued, “The challenge for me as the organizer is I don’t have a ‘captive committee’ that I can schedule for the whole day. The biggest thing we lose with a remote event is the ability for students to network with committee members in formal and informal settings.” To partially combat this, a ‘Zoom social’ was put together, splitting NVC members, AQS staff, and students into breakout rooms. This gave students the opportunity to meet committee members and ask questions about the field and their facilities.  

In the Aquarium Science Program, students gain hands-on knowledge and skills to prepare them for a rewarding career in aquatic animal care. Photo: E. Bjornsgard

One of the most anticipated parts of the National Visiting Committee is the mock interviews. Committee members would meet with students in a traditional interview style, and afterward, students had the opportunity to receive feedback on their interviews, preparing them for job interviews in the field.  “This year, we did Zoom interviews, which honestly are more realistic for our industry,” said Boles. Because aquariums are located all around the country, it can be unlikely to participate in an in-person interview for each position.  

Now that spring quarter is in full swing, the aquarium science students are busy caring for the animals in the aquarium science building, working on classes and extra projects, and preparing for the future. Applications for jobs and internships are being prepared. Soon, they will be using the knowledge and skills they have learned here at OCCC and bringing them to facilities across the country.