Great Lakes, Great Careers

A variety of people make their living studying the oceans and Great Lakes or educating others about these valuable natural resources. Yet for many students in the U.S., these careers may seem relatively remote or unattainable, until they learn about the actual people who do them. This activity will help students become familiar with exciting careers in science.

Grade level: 4-8 grades


  • Name at least five careers in marine and aquatic science, including both the oceans and Great Lakes.
  • Identify several recent contributions that people have made in marine and aquatic science fields.
  • Describe a marine or Great Lakes science career that interests them.


“I have always loved the water. Since junior high school, I was certain I wanted a career that would involve the ocean,” says Ocean Engineer Dianna Bo. For some young people, that’s all it takes—an early fascination that leads to a lifelong passion. Others, however, may not realize that related careers even exist, much less that they would enjoy the work!

Bo is one of more than 50 people profiled on web pages created by WHOI and NH Sea Grant programs (see: Marine Careers website). The pages provide an introduction to a wide range of marine career fields and to people working in those fields. The featured men and women tell how they got started in their careers, what they like and dislike, and give advice for young people. Fields covered include marine biology, oceanography, ocean engineering, and related fields such as marine law, education and economics. Below is a closer-to-home example of people who have chosen Great Lakes-oriented careers.

In their Own Words – Michigan Sea Grant and Researchers

There are many labors of love in life, such as having families, raising pets or undertaking home remodeling projects. One labor of love that all Sea Grant members have in common is turning their love of science into a career. For some, the path to science was clear-cut. They knew science was their first love and they went for it, the only difficulty was in deciding which facet would be their life’s work. For others, the path meandered a little.

The following are first-person accounts of how Sea Grant staff and researchers became involved in science careers and what they do now.

Cannibalistic Crickets

“I’ve been in love with animals and the natural world forever, but fell in love with science and ecology in about third grade. I remember (and believe I still have somewhere) a little paper wheel that connected the circle of life: producers, consumers, decomposers and then back to producers. It made so much sense of the universe for me. I also saw my first food web that year in the same science class.

I loved tracing the links and admired the complexity of the interconnections. I count myself fortunate that it was one that included humans as part of the web — I’ve never since considered nature to be something apart from humans. I also remember one particular experiment we did that year. We set up terrariums with grass and water and then added crickets. My partner and I accidentally poured too many crickets in our terrarium, about a hundred in a square-foot terrarium. Rather than trying to get the crickets back out, we slammed the lid on and taped it shut. We learned firsthand what happens to an ecosystem badly out of balance, and that crickets will turn cannibal once the grass is gone.

This was maybe my first true science experiment as opposed to a demonstration; I’m very grateful the teacher gave us the opportunity to follow through and interpret our own results rather than chalking it up as something that “didn’t work” or telling us we had done it wrong. That, for me, is the essence of science and the scientific method: the capacity to make our own observations, interpret our own results, and ask more questions if we don’t see what we expect.”

Rochelle Sturtevant: As the Great Lakes Regional Sea Grant Extension Educator, Rochelle serves as Sea Grant’s link to NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL) and provides Great Lakes-related professionals throughout the basin with timely information including seminars, field research, publications, outreach products and opportunities for collaboration.

Defense Mechanism = Vomiting

“I was working with (the U.S) Fish and Wildlife Service, and I realized I loved the work I did there. I remember my “ah-ha!” moment was the first time I went out to a Common Tern colony (on Charity Island in Saginaw Bay) to collect eggs to test for toxicity. We put on rain gear before heading out because the birds throw up on you. That’s their defense mechanism — they kind of take off and puke half-digested fish parts from the air. It’s quite a smell. I guess it’s kind of weird to have liked that, but what I really like was that it was on-the-ground work.

The other part of that job, I remember, was being part of the lawsuit against Dow relating to dioxin released into Saginaw Bay. The office had sent in a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to gather information. All I did for two to three weeks was copy box after box of documents. They rented us a room in a Lansing office building; it was one other girl, two copy machines, and me and we went through every document and made copies. It was tedious, but interesting, and sometimes surprising.”

– Donna Kashian: Donna served as Principal Investigator/Lead Researcher on Integrated Assessment projects such as Fish Consumption Advisory Research Project.

Alien Landscapes

“My interest in science was solidified during a road trip through the Southwest after my second year of college. The experience amazed me on many levels — there are very few exposed rocks in my home state on the East Coast, and I was blown away by all the enormous red rock formations in Arizona and Utah. How could such an alien landscape exist in my own country?

My travel partner spent three months working for a national park, and she introduced me to hardened field biologists and geologists — professionals who wear hiking boots rather than suits — brilliant! I had recently chosen geo-biology as my major, and I had two geology classes under my belt. This provided a new window into the world around me. Rather than just appreciating the physical magnificence of the landscape, I tried to imagine the seas and sand dunes and erosion that had created the layers and shapes I saw. As I tried to filter the muddy Colorado River, I cursed the concept of sediment load, and as the temperature plummeted at night in our tent, I quickly remembered a lesson on moisture and heat capacity. To me, that is what’s cool about science — it gives you another way of interpreting and understanding the world around you, seeing connections, and imagining the forces that you can’t see directly.”

– Lynn Vaccaro: Lynn is the former Michigan Sea Grant Research Project Coordinator and as such, she helped coordinate, extend, and evaluate Sea Grant’s research program, ensuring that program-funded research was accessible. She provided analysis on topics such as how the Great Lakes influence the economy and support jobs in the region.

Getting “Hooked”

“When growing up, I loved the outdoors and being in the U.P. My favorite activities were fishing and hunting, and thus I wanted to pursue a degree in the biological sciences. It was a choice between wildlife and fisheries, and I ended up choosing a career in fisheries. I liked the diversity of the fishery, from the Great Lakes to streams to inland lakes. I also liked being near water and that probably pushed me into the fishery career. I never second guessed getting into fisheries as a profession.”

– Ron Kinnunen: Ron is a retired Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator who was stationed in the Upper Peninsula. He worked with coastal communities and businesses in the Upper Peninsula to apply science-based knowledge to address Great Lakes and Lake Superior, northern Lake Michigan, and northern Lake Huron issues.

Unraveling the Mystery

“From a very young age, I’ve been interested in mysteries. In elementary school, a substitute teacher introduced me to Encyclopedia Brown books, and I was hooked on science. I was constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the story and figure out the mystery before anyone else. As I grew older, I realized that environmental science was a way for me to merge my love of mysteries with that of nature. I found myself wondering…what makes one bird migrate while another stays put? How can syrup be made from trees? Where do insects go in winter?”

Mary Bohling: Mary is an outreach-oriented Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator in Urban Southeast Michigan. Mary works with coastal communities and businesses in southeast Michigan to apply science-based knowledge to address Great Lakes issues. She does things like helps create the Lake St. Clair Coastal Water Trail or co-found the board of the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance, a non-profit organization created to support the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.



  • Choosing a Career in Science
    Summary: Students review a selection of career profiles and play a lively classroom game to find out more about marine and aquatic science professionals.
    Time: 50-60-minute class period


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