Studying fish

Union Pines High School senior Hannah Sullivan studies various species of fish Saturday during Girls Exploring Science and Technology at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. (Cheryl Burke photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — It was all about science and technology for area high school girls Saturday at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences.

High school girls from Raleigh to the coast took part in a variety of hands-on science, technology, engineering and math activities, led by area scientists and graduate students, as part of Girls Exploring Science and Technology.

This is the first time IMS hosted the event, according to IMS Communications Director Kerry Irish.

“GEST is intended to provide girls in eastern North Carolina with opportunities, resources and role models in the fields of science and technology,” she said in a press release about the event. “GEST began as a one-day event for middle-schoolers at Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort in 2016. At the fourth annual GEST event in 2019, there were 200 participants and there was a lot of demand for having two events per year.”

The plan is to continue offering GEST at IMS for high school girls in the fall and at Duke Marine Lab for middle school girls in the spring.

By attendance, the first high school GEST was a success, according to organizers. The event attracted nearly 80 girls, which was capacity, and had a waiting list.

Many of those attending, including Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School freshman Zoe Kelly, said they have a career interest in science or technology.

“I love science and robotics and working with robots,” Zoe said. “I thought this would be a cool experience and add to what I’m learning in my aquaculture class.”

Girls attending took part in eight activities led by local researchers and educators from IMS, Duke Marine Lab, the N.C. Coastal Federation, East Carolina University, Cape Fear Academy and the N.C. State Center for Marine Sciences and Technology.

Activities were related to marine science and technology and included topics such as physical oceanography, fish biology, whale behavior, underwater robots, drones and coastal habitat.

Participants also heard from panelists during a discussion that included local professors, graduate students and undergraduate students.

The girls came from a variety of schools across eastern and central North Carolina, including Carteret County, Onslow County, Craven County, Wake County, Chapel Hill and Ocracoke School, which flooded during Hurricane Dorian in September.

Ocracoke School junior Rebecca Boos said she and four other girls from her school wanted to attend.

“We decided it would be a nice break from the island and all that is going on because of the hurricane damage,” she said. “We’re also interested in science and technology.”

IMS student Carson Miller, who coordinated GEST, said she hopes the event encouraged a love for science.

“Even if they don’t choose a career in science, I hope they get information on what science is all about and even some information on applying to colleges,” she said.

All events were free to participants. Event sponsors were UNC IMS, UNC Institute for the Environment, North Carolina Biotechnology Center, N.C. Sea Grant, Geodynamics, Parker Honda and Morris Family Shellfish Farms.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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