Courtney Bouchard, Laura Hode
Following the launch of the Ocean Engineering program at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), students petitioned to form a new IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society (OES) student branch chapter in 2018. Ultimately, we want the chapter to fulfill three major goals: social outreach, career development through networking, and increased conference attendance. In regard to the last goal, three USM students were sponsored to attend the OCEANS 2018 conference in Charleston, South Carolina. The conference highlighted the opportunities that IEEE OES has to offer students. While we look forward to future conferences, networking, and research and development opportunities, we want to highlight the social outreach events that have comprised the bulk of our chapter’s early activities.
USM’s Division of Marine Science is located at Stennis Space Center and Gulfport (Mississippi). We have a unique opportunity to volunteer with the many organizations located on Stennis and along the Gulf Coast. NASA’s Infinity Science Center has provided an exciting opportunity for the students at USM to volunteer with the local community. Our student branch chapter has been volunteering regularly at Scout Saturdays at the Infinity Center where several hundred boy scouts and girl scouts come for a day of learning and to earn badges for their activities. Each Scout Saturday is themed, and our student branch volunteers there create small activities to engage the students.
USM students have also been working with the Infinity Science Center on Homeschool Mondays. The event invites the many homeschooled children in the area to the center for the day to learn about the monthly theme. The USM students have a blast participating in this event and look forward to having more community outreach activities with the Infinity Science Center.
Across the Gulf Coast, there are plenty of opportunities for outreach. SeaPerch is an annual high school and middle school remotely operated vehicle (ROV) competition. The high school and middle school students build and operate the ROVs themselves, and the University of Southern Mississippi hosts one of the regional competitions. The 2019 Regional SeaPerch Competition took place at the Biloxi Natatorium. It is an honor to assist with the competition and a pleasure to see the students’ excitement.
We have also assisted with the First Lego League Junior competition. This involved working the competition floor and teaching elementary school teams a variety of science concepts.
One of our most rewarding experiences has been helping with the Hurricane Bowl. The Hurricane Bowl is a regional competition for the National Ocean Science Bowl where high school students showcase their oceanographic knowledge. Teams come from states across the Gulf Coast to compete. Their level of knowledge and dedication are exemplary. The 2019 Hurricane Bowl took place at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.
On a monthly basis, the student branch chapter has been participating in beach cleanup. Recently, this has meant cleaning up a section of Mississippi beach with other local volunteers and taking a survey of what materials make up the bulk of the litter we find. We have now been volunteering long enough and consistently enough that other groups reach out to us to assist with additional events.
As part of our outreach activities, we try to pair with organizations and agencies at Stennis Space Center, at the various USM campus, and with local organizations in the area. We also work closely with our Marine Technology Society student branch chapter and Student Oceanographic Society, a student organization providing academic and networking assistance to graduate students. In this way, we can be better and more involved with a range of opportunities.
Opportunities for the Future
As we near the halfway point of our first year, the student branch chapter has been developing plans for our future. We intend to start the fall semester with a mixer for students, faculty, and staff, and we intend to invite researchers from the organizations at Stennis and across the Gulf Coast to attend.
We are also excited to announce that a member of the student branch chapter will be attending OCEANS 2019 in Marseille, and we hope to send a representative to OCEANS 2019 in Seattle as well. Additionally, we plan to invite speakers to give seminars on Stennis.
Of course, community outreach will remain a priority. We look forward to collaborating with other companies and expanding our volunteering network. We appreciate the support of IEEE and OES, and we are happy to be part of the IEEE OES family.