The National Science Board’s 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators report contains an all-too-familiar statistic.
Women account for only 28 percent of the workforce in science and engineering jobs. Elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and universities around the country have designed initiatives to boost that number.
Roane State adjunct professor Jessica Fain wants to do her part, and she’s willing to live underwater for 72 days to show that science is cool, for boys and for girls.
“I definitely see those social barriers for girls interested in science,” Fain said. “They don’t want to be labeled as the nerd. We still have this stigma of wanting to be the popular girl and not wanting to be the science geek. I want them to see that it is OK to be the smart, nerdy girl.”
Fain, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology and teaches biology labs for Roane State, will participate in Classroom Under the Sea, a joint project between Roane State and the Marine Resources Development Foundation in Key Largo, Florida. Along with Roane State biology professor Bruce Cantrell, Fain will live and work in an underwater habitat for 72 days this fall (October 4-December 15).
The habitat, Jules’ Undersea Lodge, is located 25 feet below the sea in the lagoon at the Marine Resources Development Foundation. While they live in the habitat, Fain and Cantrell will host a weekly program titled “Classroom Under the Sea” that will cover a variety of topics in marine science.
Classroom Under the Sea is the type of hands-on science experience that fascinates students, Fain said. Lab experiments inspired Fain to pursue science, and she hopes living underwater shows students that science is more than reading textbooks.
“Hands-on experiences are the best way to get young people interested in science,” Fain said. “Why not do the fun, exciting experiences when they are impressionable? That excitement will carry over into other, harder concepts.
“I could read about air pressure all day long, but when I am in a lab and can physically see the way air pressure affects things, I am getting the concept. I can read about the ocean ecosystems. I can read about how they use the wetlands and inland lagoon areas as nurseries, but with Classroom Under the Sea, I can actually see it and help show young people what is happening.”
Fain, of Lenoir City, graduated from East Tennessee State University in 2011 and began teaching for Roane State. She is an experienced diver who has logged more than 100 hours in underwater habitats and labs.
The natural world, Fain said, has fascinated her since childhood. She said she “fell in love with marine science” the first time she went snorkeling.
“It’s amazing how many systems go into an ecosystem underwater,” she said. “Nature has this cool way of if something happens to that balance, it can rebalance itself. I’m passionate about marine science and preserving our oceans, and I hope that people who watch us during Classroom Under the Sea will see that if you are passionate about something, and you go out and do it, most likely you are going to open doors for yourself.”
Classroom Under the Sea programs will be available for anyone to watch at roanestate.edu/classroomunderthesea and on youtube.com/classroomunderthesea. Sponsors of Classroom Under the Sea include Diversity in Aquatics and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).
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).
Located in Key Largo, Florida, 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.