Heather O’Connell: Excited and Eager for Imminent Exploration, April 26, 2018


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 11 -22, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Coast of Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: 04/26/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude 19.6400° N

Longitude 155.9969° W

The current weather in Kona, Hawaii on the Big Island is 86 degrees Fahrenheit with 59% humidity. Winds from the west are coming in at 6 miles per hour or 5.2 knots as we will say on the ship. It is mostly sunny with a 20 % chance of rain.

Personal Log and Introduction

My fascination with the intricacies of the human body led me to pursue biochemistry and earn a bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College in 2002. While I enjoyed analyzing pharmaceuticals for Pfizer and conducting sleep research with Weill Cornell Medical College, I missed the social aspects of a profession. This prompted me to pursue teaching and I received a Master’s Degree in Education from Pace University in 2007.

I began teaching at a small private school in Westchester County, New York, where I taught both middle school and high school science and founded a Habitat for Humanity club and traveled to Nicaragua with a group of students to build homes for the community.  My love of hands on tasks and community service made this an enriching endeavor.

Eight years ago, my adventurous spirit transported me from Long Island, NY to Maui, Hawaii, where I shared my enthusiasm for science with students while exploring the vast terrain, plant life and coral reefs. My next adventure brought me to Hilo on the Big Island where I was part of an enriching professional development program, Ku’Aina Pa, that taught about gardening and culture. Here is where I met my friend Ben who told me about West Hawaii Explorations Academy, W.H.E.A., an outdoor science project based school with a shark lagoon. I never knew charter schools like this existed!

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the W.H.E.A. high school team for the past five years, where I advise science projects, teach Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus and an after school Chemistry class. I advise an Urchin Survey project where we monitor the population of urchins at a Marine Life Conservation District and I love providing the opportunity for students to collect real data.  We have access to deep ocean water which students have used for cold agriculture projects in the past and more recently to precipitate O.R.M. (orbitally realigned molecules) to use as a fertilizer. Some of my favorite parts about my job are learning alongside students, as I knew nothing about plumbing a marine tank before W.H.E.A., and working with such a great team! When I am teaching students how to be stewards of the land through the lens of science and math, I feel as if I am pursuing my passion in life and it fulfills me greatly.

WHEA Urchin Survey

Freshman conducting an urchin survey for their research paper.

I participated in the Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute last year, where I learned to teach math through a cultural lens with environmental service work. I was inspired by a group of amazing colleagues and met Christina who told me about the NOAA Teacher at Sea opportunity. Since I love experiential learning, I eagerly completed the application and am thrilled to be embarking on this amazing opportunity.

Hikianalia Sail Picture

Cohort 9 of Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute on Oahu

I am passionate about teaching and developing culturally relevant projects that instill a sense of wonder and I seek out soul nourishing experiences like Ku’Aina Pa and the Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute.  I am certain that the Teacher at Sea program will provide a profound, enriching experience that will allow me to develop meaningful curriculum to share with students and fellow educators, while allowing me to grow personally.

When I’m not utilizing my enthusiasm and creativity to instill students with curiosity and responsibility to make a more sustainable future, I enjoy exploring the beautiful Big Island by backpacking or hiking to some of its exotic locations. I also enjoy long distance running, beach yoga, any activity in or around the ocean and cooking nourishing meals.

Kona Sunset

Spectacular Kona sunset…one of my favorite parts of the day

Did you know?

Lo’ihi is the new volcanic island of Hawaii that is forming 20 miles Southeast of the Big Island. This seamount formed from volcanic activity over the hot spot currently rises 10,100 feet off of the ocean floor but is still 3,100 feet from the surface of the water.

 

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