Connecting beyond the shore: DEEPS graduate students get to know Narragansett Bay and each other

As part of an annual excursion geared toward incoming graduate students in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, about 20 students joined Brown faculty on a Save the Bay tour.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Two things that make Brown University a great place to study, according to students? The school’s people and sense of community. And the Ocean State it calls home. What better way to get to know both than a day on the water on Narragansett Bay?

That’s the thinking behind the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences’ annual Save the Bay tour for incoming graduate students. Each year during move-in and orientation week, the department organizes a trip to the nonprofit Save the Bay’s center in Providence where the group, made up of a majority of new students, boards a vessel with faculty members, staff and other graduate students for a ride on the bay. On the water, students get to know each other, learn about an important area and natural resource in Rhode Island, and have a chance to connect with faculty and staff from the department.

“It’s a good setting for this,” said a smiling Kaiyuan Wang, an incoming Brown graduate student from the eastern coast of China. “We are stuck on a boat. There’s a limited amount of space. There’s a limited amount of people. Given enough time, you will communicate with each other.”

This year, the group met up on a late-August afternoon and were off, jumping aboard the Alletta Morris, a 45-foot-research vessel. Students chatted throughout the day, talking over the roar of the engine and crash of the current. They also connected with DEEPS faculty like Steven Clemens and Baylor Fox-Kemper, who not only attended but pointed out relevant geographic areas and areas of interest on the bay. Crew from Save the Bay and faculty members from Brown also led discussions on how Narragansett Bay has changed throughout the years and how it’s being monitored.

Julia Miller, a new arrival to Providence from upstate New York, said seeing and learning about the bay helped her develop a small sense of place. “I’ve been here for three days so I haven’t really gotten to see anything yet, so this has been really cool,” she said.

Aboard the vessel, the group learned about the ecosystem hiding beneath the waters, and despite the wind, overcast and spurts of light rain, things were still able to get pretty hands-on. For example, students helped lower and raise a measurement tool to get the water-column structure of the bay, giving them a snapshot of its salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll distribution.

That was the only science portion of the trip. After all, the half-day excursion is more about making connections.

For Caleb Ukaonu, that was the best part.

He was part of a small group that broke the ice by examining maps in the center of the vessel and chatting about where they were on the water. The conversation soon turned to a discussion on where they were from, what they study and even stories of how they grew up.

Scenes like this played out throughout the vessel as students warmed up to each other.

“I just met my whole cohort yesterday, so getting to do this boat tour with them was an important way to get to know them better and also other people in their department,” said Ukaonu, who is from Atlanta and planning to work on climate modeling. “Some of us are taking the same classes, so it’s going to help bring us closer.”

Students and faculty also took time to take in the views, like the far-off Providence skyline, and various landmarks such as the Pell Bridge in Newport, Fort Adams and the Conimicut Lighthouse. Many took photos and even the occasional selfie. At the end, as the sun finally emerged from behind the clouds, students reflected on the trip while basking in the light.

“Once we get back in the building, we’ll have this shared experience we can talk about,” said Katya Yanez, a Los Angeles native on the East Coast for the first time.

They all looked forward to exploring more of Rhode Island together.