Internships are an important aspect of workforce development, allowing students to gain firsthand experience in a discipline.
In 2018, funding from the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium allowed the DISL’s Discovery Hall Programs to provide this critical education and outreach work experience for an undergraduate student interested in the field of environmental education.
This summer, Alex Lau traveled from the clear blue water and coral reef environs of his native Hawaii to the biologically rich, but often coffee-colored, waters around Dauphin Island to work as DHP’s Summer Collegiate Intern in Environmental Education.
Lau said that the DISL internship offered a chance to support his passion and goals to be a marine science educator through the opportunity to work closely with students at all levels in a variety of settings.
“I have the chance to educate during outdoor explorations, while pointing out neat features of marine life, discussing about marine conservation while snorkeling with groups of students, and teaching about shark dissections during wet lab sessions,” Lau shared.
Lau plunged right in to DHP’s summer programs, working at outreach events and assisting with summer camps from his first week. He also had the chance to teach shark and squid dissections, fix underwater robots, talk with individuals of all ages visiting the touch table, prepare ocean-themed crafts, explore DHP’s collections of preserved and dried specimens, learned to fish for blue crab and snapper, and experienced no-see-ums, ‘palmetto’ bugs and Alabama’s infamous humidity.
“The experience I'm having in DISL provides me hands on experience what it is like of a typical day for a marine science educator,” Lau said of the summer internship experience. “What I love most is inspiring young students to be future marine scientists.”
Lau adds he enjoyed talking with students one on one, allowing them to ask questions about the field of marine science, and inspiring them to know more about the oceans. One of Lau’s favorite creatures to share a thing or two about is the sea cucumber.
“It's an unappreciated animal which people overlook when it compares to a tuna or shark, but for me, the sea cucumber is a underappreciated hero of the sea - keeping the ocean clean and healthy.”
As Lau has enjoyed sharing what he knows, DHP counselors, educators, and campers have enjoyed learning from him in return, as he shared his knowledge and love of Hawaii’s marine environments.
“Alex has embraced all aspects of the internship and has been great to have in our group,” DHP Chair Dr. Tina Miller-Way said. “He has learned much, shared much, and has a wonderful sense of humor that really engages audiences. Despite being from Hawaii, he is truly a Southern Gentleman. He is now part of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab family and we wish him the best as he moves to the next stage of his career.”
Lau has a few travel plans before he heads home to Hawaii. He plans to continue his pursuits in marine science education, and Dr. Miller-Way hopes his summer experience with Discovery Hall Programs helps him on his journey.