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STEM in the Community

STEM In The Community

A Solution to Ocean Pollution: TURTLES connecting students and researchers

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By Mary Petiet

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is pioneering a solution to ocean pollution. It’s called TURTLES and it’s open to everyone. The TURTLES (Talented Undergraduate Researchers Taking Leadership Through Experiential Science) internship, funded by the Woods Hole Sea Grant, took place in Summer and Fall 2021 and its aim was to expand diversity in STEM fields while cleaning the oceans of plastic. Two Students from Cape Cod Community College participated.

Woods Hole Sea Grant, which funds the TURTLES initiative, is committed to building inclusive marine science programs that serve people with unique backgrounds. To help further this mission, the program has awarded funding to seven projects aimed at taking steps toward addressing the issue. These projects include TURTLES and the Teacher-In-Residence Program, which was awarded to Cape Cod Regional STEM Network Director Bridget Burger, to create partnerships between marine science institutions and teachers from under-represented minority (URM) populations in STEM.

Mike Mazotta, the researcher behind TURTLES, emphasizes the importance of the grant as an expander of diversity in STEM. TURTLES offers an opportunity for community college students who identify as members of a minority community, including LBGTQ+, to come together in a safe space where they can explore and do hands-on science with the world’s top researchers.

For TURTLES students that means the opportunity to work with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Hauke Kite-Powell(pictured talking to the students above), who also received a Sea Grant to broaden the diversity and inclusion of members of the Gender and Sexual Minority (GSM) community through science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) learning sessions and a geoscience lab experience at local colleges. Kite-Powell, the world’s premier plastics pollution expert, provides a safe and empowering hands-on experience for STEM students.

Part of STEM Director Bridget Burger’s role is connecting students with opportunities in science. As such, she helped facilitate funding for two 4Cs students’ participation in TURTLES through STEM Starter Academy, and she remains fully committed to expanding support for the program into next year. “This is a valuable program for community college students to give them access to knowledge, resources, and a network they may not otherwise have access to. It is important to maintain community college access to the institutions we have in Woods Hole,” Burger said of the program.