Cordova Flatfish to join Seward Shrimp Hawks at national ocean science competition

Avalanche inspires students to make the most of education experience

8 March 2006

Contacts

NR: SG-2006/NR231

Cordova, Alaska—When February avalanches closed the only road to Seward, the Cordova High School team "Flatfish" found themselves floundering on the wrong side of the snow slide and unable to finish a regional marine science competition for which they had spent months preparing.

Their determination to make the best of the situation has netted them an invitation to attend the National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) championship.

Cordova team picture Left to right: Mckenzie Herring, Leif Stavig, Lee Collins, Christopher Hager. Photo courtesy Hank Pennington, Pennington Photography.

Cordova students Mckenzie Herring, Leif Stavig, Lee Collins, and Christopher Hager, together with coach Kate Alexander, will go to the NOSB finals May 13–15 in Pacific Grove, California, thanks to grants from the Alaska Sea Grant College Program, the Prince William Sound Science Center and local sponsors.

"It's just really great news," said Kate Alexander, Flatfish team coach and education specialist at the Prince William Sound Science Center in Cordova. "They were frustrated at not being able to get to Seward and complete the Alaska competition. This is a happy ending."

The Flatfish—along with nine other high school teams—were supposed to take part in the Feb. 10–12 Alaska regional NOSB competition in Seward. The event chooses the Alaska high school team to go to the national finals.

But road-blocking avalanches prevented the Flatfish, as well as teams from Soldotna, Unalaska, and Angoon, from getting to Seward. The teams delivered research presentations via videoconference from hastily prepared locations in Kenai and Anchorage. The Cordova Flatfish took first place and the event's $1,000 prize. The team also received one-year tuition waivers to the University of Alaska Southeast.

But since Cordova students could not take part in the ocean science knowledge quiz, they were ineligible to win the overall competition. Hometown favorites Seward Shrimp Hawks won the right to represent Alaska in the NOSB finals. The Shrimp Hawks students also received one-year tuition waivers to the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Eager to make the most of the experience, the Cordova students asked if they could attend the NOSB finals, said Alexander.

"The desire to go to the nationals was first discussed while we were all huddled in a cabin in Moose Pass waiting for the road to open," said Alexander. "It would be a shame if, after all this work and effort, these kids couldn't somehow be a part of this event."

In a letter to Susan Haynes, NOSB's national director, Alexander requested permission to attend the national championship. Haynes responded with an invitation to the finals. The Flatfish won't be official competitors, but they will deliver their research presentation to an audience of regional champions from across the country. They'll observe the national competition and interact with the teams. National organizers also will include the Cordova team in several field trips planned to local science and research attractions.

Alaska is the only region that requires teams to write a detailed research paper and present their findings in public, as well as participate in an ocean science knowledge quiz. The Alaska team gaining the most points in the two events wins the right to compete in the national championship. Teams in other regions are chosen only through a rapid-fire ocean knowledge quiz.

"The research paper and presentation makes all the teams go beyond the call to participate in the national competition," said Alexander. "It's something unique to Alaska, but it also increases the educational value of the event."

Alexander, together with Torie Baker of the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program in Cordova, is spearheading local efforts to raise money for the trip. The fundraising effort is off to a great start, thanks to a $3,000 donation from the Alaska Sea Grant College Program.

"In the nine years we've been involved in this event, this is the first time a team that was not the winner has taken the initiative to go to the national finals," said Brian Allee, director of Alaska Sea Grant. "They are determined to gain the most from this educational experience, and we feel quite privileged to help."

The Alaska Sea Grant donation will pay for the team's airline tickets. The Prince William Sound Science Center will pay for Alexander's time and travel. The Cordova students plan to use their $1,000 award to help cover other costs, but will still need to raise money to cover hotels and some meals while at the national competition.

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is a key sponsor of the Alaska Region National Ocean Sciences Bowl. The competition began in 1998 as a way to bring ocean science education to the nation's high schools and to encourage high school graduates to pursue careers in science. This year, approximately 2,000 students from 375 high schools nationwide took part in regional competitions.

Major support for the Alaska Region National Ocean Sciences Bowl comes from the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education and the North Pacific Research Board. Additional support comes from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, the Alaska Sea Grant College Program, the University of Alaska Southeast, and the Ocean Alaska Science and Learning Center.

Note: Persons wishing to contribute to the Cordova team's travel expenses can make a tax-deductible donation online at: https://ssl.uaf.edu/giving/forms/giveform.html. Under "Please use my gift for," select: School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. In the "Comments" section, type: "Cordova travel expenses for National Ocean Sciences Bowl."