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Celebrating 20 Years with our Nauticus/NPS Junior Scientists Club

By Susie Hill, Education Special Programs Manager

Wow, 20 years! These last two decades have been a whirlwind as we have mentored and ushered dozens of local Norfolk Public Schools middle school students through our program and watched them grow into amazing teens and even adults! It has truly been an honor to work with so many amazing young people, community partners, and volunteers. We have accomplished so much over the last 20 years that I could write for days so please bear with me as I try and encompass everything in one blog!

With the help of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and our Schooner Virginia, our Jr Scientists have had many opportunities to practice maritime science and environmental advocacy in a hands-on way both on and off our campus! To support our local waterways, they have raised and measured the growth of baby spat oysters and released them back to their natural oyster reef homes in the Elizabeth River. These students have conducted water quality tests to determine the health of the Elizabeth River off of our docks at Nauticus. And they have worked tirelessly to keep our waterways clean of pollution and marine debris: picking up litter, removing floating debris from the River , and collecting marine debris as it flows through our Seabins (the first ones on the U.S. East Coast).

Our Science Club has welcomed experts from maritime industries to teach them about local maritime issues and STEM careers; professionals from organizations such as NOAA, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Elizabeth River Project, Ocean Exploration Trust, and Port of Virginia. Our Jr Scientists have also gone out into the community, cleaning miles of beaches in the Oceanview part of Norfolk on the Annual Clean the Bay Days. They have participated in multiple award-winning environmental stewardship projects: planting schoolyard gardens, butterfly gardens, and shoreline grasses at Northside Middle School, Norview Middle School, and Camp E.W.Young.

Beyond just taking action, our Jr Scientists also educate and share their passion for Environmental Stewardship with our community to educate and inspire others to take action like they have! They have served as junior volunteers for Nauticus hosted events, most recently: NPS Regional Science Fair, ERP Youth Resilience Expo, Afrofuturism Day. At these events they have volunteered and presented STEM activities for our visiting guests and educated about their Elizabeth River restoration projects!

These wonderful students, with the help our sponsoring schoolteachers and the Nauticus team, have learned to appreciate our local waterways and the importance of protecting our environment. With the skills and confidence, they have gained in public speaking, we hope they will keep their amazing passion for learning and continue the environmental advocacy that they’ve learned as members of the Nauticus/NPS Junior Scientists Club. We thank all of our past members for their time and dedication to this amazing program! Our passionate students and community are what made the program into what it was and we wish everyone, but especially our most recent class of Jr Scientists, the best as they move onto the next chapters in their lives. Thank you for changing our world and helping to make it a better place!