New Grad Finds Amazing Opportunities at Sea

June 13, 2013
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When you think of MNU – a university in the heart of the Kansas City metro– do you think “marine biology?” Most people don’t. But senior biology major Andrea Holt (’13) isn’t like most people. In addition to excelling in MNU’s biology program, Andrea has worked at the Sea Life Aquarium in Kansas City and studied abroad in the Caribbean to gain specialized experiences that will further her goal of becoming a marine biologist.

Andrea’s love for the marine world began when, as a high school senior she became fascinated by ocean-themed specials on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Animal Planet.

“I realized I had never been more interested in a field than I was in the ocean and its life,” Andrea says. “That confirmed my decision. I had to learn more, and I had to gain the tools to ultimately get to the sea.”

That resolution, however, didn’t cause Andrea to rethink her choice to attend MNU.

CatamaranAndrea Holt steers the catamaran she and fellow Broadreach students lived on last summer. “I discovered that majoring in biology [at MNU] would still be completely practical, because had I gone to school near the ocean, I still would have studied biology,” Andrea says. “Rather than specify right away, it’s more sensible to major in the broader field of biology, because it leaves more doors open in terms of future opportunities and jobs. Attending school in Kansas never seemed like a barrier, just another step that I had to take in my journey to reaching the ocean life!”

What’s more, there are many opportunities for marine studies in Kansas, says Assistant Professor of Biology Rion Taylor.

“Hundreds of thousands of years ago, this whole area was a shallow sea,” Taylor says. “So there are actually a lot of oceanography studies you can do in Kansas.”

When [employers] look for someone, they want to get the most for their investment. So they look for somebody who has really strong basic experience, as well as an interest and love for the marine environment. And that’s something Andrea has certainly gotten here. – Steve Cole, PhD, professor of biology

Since Andrea is primarily interested in the current marine environment, however, she has sought out experiences in the field. Last spring, when she learned that Sea Life Aquarium was coming to Kansas City, she competed against 2,000 other applicants in multiple rounds of interviews for a grueling 13 hours. In the end, though, Andrea was hired as an Educational Specialist. The experience, she says, was rewarding.

 

“My favorite duty at Sea Life was teaching at the Rock Tide Pool Touch Tank,” she says. “In this exhibit, guests were allowed to touch different marine organisms like sea stars, sea urchins, cleaner shrimp, horseshoe crabs and more. I loved watching people gain the courage to touch the animals (especially the kids). It was really cool to see their faces light up as they felt these creatures for the first time.”

But Sea Life Aquarium was only the beginning – Andrea knew she needed experience on the ocean. She applied to the Broadreach Tropical Marine Biology program, and after earning a Broadreach scholarship, spent summer 2012 in an unforgettable study abroad program in the Caribbean. As she completed certifications in scuba diving, yachting, AWARE fish identification and more, Andrea gained unforgettable field experiences living on a catamaran with seven other students, their professor, and the ship’s skipper.

“At one point while watching a barracuda, I found myself in the middle of a school of tiny fish – hundreds of them,” Andrea says. “It was such a cool feeling to have them all surrounding me. This dive also included getting to see a green sea turtle up close as it swam right up to one of my dive buddies.”

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Now Andrea’s professional and academic achievements have paid off with another dream opportunity – this summer, she is an intern on the American Pride  tallship in Long Beach, Calif. Her duties include interning under the resident marine biologist while she lives aboard the vessel.

“I’ll be teaching the guests marine biology, leading fish dissections, tending to the boat, helping operate sails and assisting groups in activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, Aquarium of the Pacific tours, hiking and more,” Andrea says.

Professor of Biology Steve Cole says that working on the American Pride will be a perfect fit for Andrea’s unique skillset and personality.

“She’s a person who embodies what it means to be a biologist,” Cole says. “She’s going to be a person that people are going to want to present their programs to the public.”

Further into the future, Cole says Andrea’s combined achievements at MNU, Sea Life, and Broadreach will serve her well in whatever marine biology career she chooses.

“When [employers] look for someone, they want to get the most for their investment,” Cole says. “So they look for somebody who has really strong basic experience, as well as an interest and love for the marine environment. And that’s something Andrea has certainly gotten here.”

As Andrea celebrates her 2013 graduation, she looks the future with faith and anticipation.

“I prayed for patience, and certainly put trust in God that I was in the right place,” Andrea says. “I prayed that He would bring me to the sea, where I belong, in His time. Now I leave in less than a month to go live on a boat in California!”

To learn more about biology at MNU, visit our science and mathematics page.