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QUEST: A course where students cheer

ASCC Marine Science and UH Sea Grant partner with many agencies
ASCC students prepare to gather data from the sea as part of the ongoing QUEST Program. [Photo: K. Anderson-Tagarino]

Students don’t often cheer when a teacher walks into class, particularly on a test day. However, this is exactly what happened in one Marine Science class at the American Samoa Community College during the first class meeting after spring break.

Eight students had given up their spring break to participate in the Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques (QUEST) course held from March 12-17 in Faga’alu, and could only express their excitement over QUEST with applause.

One of their instructors, Kelley Anderson Tagarino, stated, “QUEST went better than I could have imagined. Students all reported that it was their best collegiate learning experience, and my class cheered as I walked in to give them their post-QUEST species identification exam, which to me says more than words!”

 Charles Miller, a student at QUEST, said, “I assure you that I learned more this past week than in some of my classes over a whole semester. Because of you guys I am looking forward to studying environmental studies.”

The course known as QUEST is modeled after the successful course of the same name offered by the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The American Samoa QUEST has students using snorkels and masks rather than SCUBA gear as UH does, and although the gear is different, the methods and science learned are the same.

Students spend a week studying methods for counting fish, algae, corals, and other invertebrates such as snails, crabs, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins. After studying each method, they work in two groups to practice the use of these methods in the water while collecting data to answer the research question each group comes up with.

These data are then analyzed and presented by each group at the end of the week. The intense workload leads students to push themselves to learn many new techniques in a short period of time.  Instead of staying up late partying over spring break, students stayed up late analyzing data – and enjoyed it! 

QUEST partners from the National Park of American Samoa, Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, Department of Commerce, Coral Reef Advisory Group, Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service assisted in teaching the methods, and in conducting in-water practice sessions.

Several local businesses and agencies donated time, materials, and services to make QUEST possible. These included the Office of the Governor, Department of Parks and Recreation, Ace American Industries, Samoa Springs, Friendly Car Rental, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

On behalf of the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program and ASCC, the QUEST instructors sincerely thank these sponsors for making QUEST possible. The impact it is having on students is incalculable but already evident in their response.

The QUEST course will continue to be offered every year, with the next course taking place either during the upcoming Christmas Break or Spring Break 2013.

Those interested in participating as students or sponsors can contact Ephraim Temple at 731-8169 or P.O. Box 2609 for more information.



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