HARRIMAN—Two Roane State Community College faculty members plan to live and work under the surface of the sea for 72 days this fall.
While underwater, associate professor of biology Bruce Cantrell and adjunct instructor Jessica Fain will offer the most unique educational experience in the college’s history and raise awareness of issues affecting the oceans. During their stay, Cantrell and Fain will also set a world record for the longest time spent living underwater.
Roane State and the Marine Resources Development Foundation in Key Largo, Fla., are partnering on the Classroom Under the Sea project. Cantrell and Fain plan to start their underwater adventure Oct. 4 and resurface on Dec. 15. They will live in Jules’ Undersea Lodge, which is in the lagoon at the Marine Resources Development Foundation’s facilities.
“Roane State professors have taught in a variety of locations as part of our mission to bring higher education to the communities we serve,” Roane State President Chris Whaley said. “What Bruce and Jessica are planning is certainly new territory. While their project is unique, their expertise, spirit of adventure and passion for teaching are representative of what make community colleges so special.”Roane State has a long relationship with the Marine Resources Development Foundation. Since 2005, Cantrell has taken about 20 students a year to participate in the foundation’s MarineLab education program.
While at MarineLab, Roane State students survey coral reefs and upload their findings to a database hosted by the Los Angeles-based Reef Check Foundation.
The Marine Resources Development Foundation is led by Ian Koblick, president and chairman of the foundation’s board and the organization’s founder. Koblick, an expert in underwater habitats, designed the sophisticated undersea lab La Chalupa, which he and partner Neil Monney later converted to Jules’ Undersea Lodge.
Koblick approached Cantrell last fall about the Classroom Under the Sea project, and Cantrell accepted the offer to participate. Cantrell invited Fain, who has assisted with organizing Roane State trips to MarineLab.
“Each year, I have been deeply impressed by Bruce and the Roane State students who visit MarineLab,” Koblick said. “When we came up with the idea for Classroom Under the Sea, I knew I wanted to involve Bruce and Roane State.”
While underwater, Cantrell and Fain will host a weekly program featuring interviews with leading scientists and explorers. Plans are for the programs to be hosted on the Roane State website. A schedule and further details will be announced at a later time.
Roane State students in Cantrell’s fall online biology class will have an especially interesting experience. While they take Cantrell’s course, he will be leading it from Jules’ Undersea Lodge.
“I developed my passion for marine science while in the Navy and have continued to study it throughout my career,” said Cantrell, a Roane County native and Harriman High School graduate. “I am honored to have the opportunity to raise awareness about issues affecting our oceans, promote the value of underwater habitats, and to offer an amazing learning experience for my students.”
Cantrell started teaching at Roane State in 1992. A veteran of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, he has an associate degree from Roane State, a bachelor’s degree in biology from Tennessee Tech, and a master’s in biology from American University. Cantrell has numerous diving certifications, and he has logged more than 200 hours in the Jules’ underwater habitat, including four 24-hour stays.
Fain, of Lenoir City, graduated from East Tennessee State University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and became an adjunct instructor at Roane State. While at Roane State, she became a certified scuba diver and has since earned additional diving certifications. She has logged more than 100 hours in underwater habitats and labs and accompanied Roane State students to MarineLab for the past three years.
“I have a particular interest in introducing students to coral reef ecology and to helping them understand the need to protect the ecological balance of both freshwater and marine ecosystems,” Fain said. “The Classroom Under the Sea project is a once-in-a-lifetime teaching opportunity, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Jules’ Undersea Lodge (named for writer Jules Verne) is 21 feet below the surface of the sea. The lodge is about 600 square feet, with approximately half for living space. For safety, the lodge will be monitored at all times.
While they can leave the lodge for underwater excursions, Cantrell and Fain do not plan to break the surface of the water for 72 days. If successful, they will break the record of Richard Presley, who spent 69 days and 19 minutes underwater from May 6-July 14, 1992, according to Guinness World Records.
For updates on the Classroom Under the Sea project and for more information, visit www.roanestate.edu/classroomunderthesea.
Located in Key Largo, Fla., the Marine Resources Development Foundation is a nonprofit organization with the goal of developing a better understanding of Earth’s marine resources. For more information, visit www.mrdf.org.
Roane State is a two-year college providing transfer programs, career-preparation programs and continuing education. Founded in 1971, the college has campuses in Crossville, Harriman, Huntsville, Jamestown, Knoxville, LaFollette, Lenoir City, Oak Ridge and Wartburg. For more information, visit roanestate.edu or call 1-866-GO2-RSCC (1-866-462-7722).