New marine education specialist
joins VIMS Marine Advisory Program

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As a graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Bethany Smith volunteered to help with the Blue Crab Bowl, an ocean science competition for high schoolers. Then as a marine science teacher, Smith coached student teams for the Blue Crab Bowl. Now, as the new marine education specialist with the VIMS Marine Advisory Program, Smith will serve as a regional coordinator for the Blue Crab Bowl.

“It’s been a continuum of small interactions with them throughout a big chunk of my career, and it just seems it’s so serendipitous to find myself in this position where I’m a part of it now” Smith said.

Prior to joining the MAP education team, Smith taught marine and environmental science classes for 11 years at the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School for Marine & Environmental Science. She also taught dual-enrollment classes through Rappahannock Community College, led field courses for students, and performed administrative duties as the campus’s lead teacher.

“I never really set out with the idea that I was going to go be a teacher,” Smith said. “It was always marine science for me, but I had this passion for communicating science. I sort of went into it feeling like, ‘I’m a scientist that’s going to pretend I’m a teacher, and we’re going to see how this works.’”

Smith said she looks forward to applying her experience as both a scientist and educator in order to help scientists become better teachers, and to help educators make science accessible to their students. As a marine education specialist, Smith will be responsible for coordinating the annual Blue Crab Bowl, hosted by VIMS and Old Dominion University, and will assist with programs like the Virginia Scientists and Educators Alliance, the Teachers on the Estuary field course, Marine Science Day, and Camp Launch.

A native of Pennsylvania, Smith said a trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore as a child sparked her interest in the ocean. She studied marine science and environmental geology as an undergraduate student at Rider University, and researched zooplankton in the Sargasso Sea as a master’s student at VIMS.

As a teacher, one of Smiths’ favorite classroom activities used plankton as an inspiration for an art project each year. She helped students find topics they were passionate about as they designed and completed two-year independent research projects.

“Megafauna like whales and dolphins gets all the publicity, but these tiny microscopic things are what make it so all those big things can live and exist,” Smith said. “I spent three years of my life staring down a microscope, counting and identifying these things. You have to choose something that you have a passion for, so I talk about that with my students early on.”

Smith worked at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission for a year after graduating from VIMS—an experience that showed her the roles of different stakeholders in industry, conservation, and recreation. She also coordinated Oyster Festival Education Day, an education event held in conjunction with the Urbanna Oyster Festival. She said she looks forward to the outreach events and teacher programs she will assist with in her new role as a marine education specialist.

“One of my real passions and goals for this position is helping teachers be better scientists and helping scientists be better teachers,” Smith said. “It’s important to have a pathway where content experts can get into education because it’s so vital.”

Photos provided by Bethany Smith.
Published September 17, 2020.