Pre-College Programs

January 17, 2017

6 Questions: The Florida Keys Spring Program

Spring is fast approaching. Brown’s Pre-College Spring Programs offer three options for getting out of the classroom and spending a fun and fulfilling week in March immersed in one of today’s exciting scientific challenges. Programs take place in one of three locations: Costa Rica, the Florida Keys and on the Brown University campus. The latter offers students an opportunity to explore current medical technologies while also getting a taste of campus life.

But if environmental science in a tropical locale is more your speed, the programs in Costa Rica and the Keys have plenty to offer. Here Program Director Lauren Watka discusses the Florida Keys Program’s goals and takeaways and explains how activities like snorkeling through coral reefs can be as educational as they are fun.

Lauren Watka

Lauren Watka on The Tropical Coast: The Florida Keys

assistant director of experiential learning

1.) What can students expect to see when they arrive in the Keys?

One of the environmental challenges and tensions in the world is development versus conservation. The Florida Keys is a perfect place to see this on display. Our location at Marine Lab sits on a canal, giving us immediate access to boats to bring us to locations in Florida Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. But the real majesty of this place can be seen when we dive underwater to see the busy life around mangrove roots, float above coral reef and watch tropical fish dart in and out of hiding, or swim through seagrass beds searching for conchs, crabs, and all sorts of echinoderms like sea stars, sea cucumbers and sea urchins.

Brown University Program in the Florida Keys

2.) What are some of the learning activities students can expect to take part in?

Snorkeling almost every day! We learn a bit about what we're going to see and then we see it, like a glittery school of lookdowns or blue-striped grunts.

We have service-learning projects, too. Marine debris is a global issue that students get to be part of solving when we visit an area of mangroves and remove as much trash as we can find. We then weigh and measure our findings and report them to the International Coastal Cleanup, an organization that collects citizen-provided data to gauge what kind of trash in is our oceans.

Brown University Program in the Florida Keys

3.) Anything new and exciting planned for this year's program?

YES! We are taking an afternoon to enjoy John Pennekamp State Park and observe how humans are using the coasts. We plan to explore what ecosystem services coastlines provide and try to understand how people "value" these places both for the tangible and intangibles.

4.) What would your teenage self love most about the program?

Snorkeling alongside my students, I become just as excited as them to point out a nurse shark, barracuda, shipwreck, or beautiful orange sponge. My teenage self would have loved swimming and exploring and especially to do so alongside peers who geeked out about it as much as me. There's not room for us to be too cool for's just too cool.

Brown University Program in the Florida Keys

5.) What is one takeaway you hope students leave the program with?

This underwater world matters. The program connects this diverse, dynamic but, unfortunately, dying ecosystem to action steps. We put the place and problems we see in a social context to understand what is happening, why, and what we can do back at home. The challenges are too big to simply see a beautiful place and mourn that it's disappearing. We learn about action together.

Brown University Program in the Florida Keys

6.) How have alumni said they have benefited from the program?

Two alumni who were seniors last year said this program confirmed their interests in marine science and are currently pursuing it at college. It’s a great program for anyone with an interest in marine science. We meet a people working in the field who are actively protecting or managing these resources while also exploring the location. Everyone ends up falling in love with the ecosystems.

Do these Q&As have you thinking about your spring plans? Brown is accepting applications for its Spring Programs. The deadline for applying to both Costa Rica and the Florida Keys is Wednesday, February 1. Both programs take place March 11-18, 2017.

Looking for more info? Visit the Spring Programs website for details about each of these exciting programs.