In the summer of 2007, Dylan McDowell dissected a six foot blue shark in front of a live audience; he was just 15 years old. Equipped with a microphone headset and dissection tools, Dylan set out to impart some of his newfound marine life knowledge on to the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s guests. He was anxious about making a wrong move or not being able to answer an audience member’s question. “I was really put to the test. The stakes were high!” Dylan recalls. With the help of the aquarium’s education director, however, Dylan rose to the challenge. That day he taught over 60 audience members about the anatomy, habits and importance of blue sharks as an intern in Saturday Academy's Apprenticeships in Science & Engineering (ASE) program.
Dylan’s devotion to conservation, education and learning about animals started in middle school when he began volunteering for the Oregon Coast Aquarium. In high school, a few of Dylan’s teachers, impressed by his enthusiasm and knack for science, encouraged him to apply to Saturday Academy’s Apprenticeships in Science & Engineering (ASE) internship program. ASE connects driven high-school students with expert mentors in the science, technology engineering and mathematics fields. Out of (#) applicants, Dylan was one of the 120 students selected for the summer of 2007. In mid-June, he began working for the Oregon Coast Aquarium as their ASE intern.
Each day of the week, Dylan experienced a different aspect of the aquarium. On Mondays, he arrived at the aquarium at 6:00AM to work with birds in the aviary. On Tuesdays, he prepared food for seals, sea lions and sea otters. He took care of fish and invertebrates on Wednesdays. Thursdays and Fridays were his favorite days; he worked on outreach programs and helped with public education. “I loved being able to take what I learned behind the scenes and then teach visitors to give them a high level of knowledge,” Dylan says. He remembers feeding the sharks one afternoon. Walking along the narrow, open-grate bridge over the swimming pool sized tank, Dylan plopped fish into the water to the hungry sharks swarming beneath him. While he enjoyed this exhilarating task, he realized he didn’t like being in the back, or in this case on top, of the exhibits. He wanted to be with the aquarium visitors, sharing knowledge. “Talking to people about what I was learning during my internship was the most enjoyable part. I didn’t like the times when I was by myself. I much preferred social interactions and the education components to the times when I was by myself,” Dylan says. Over the course of his internship, Dylan practiced tagging birds, led octopus encounters, set up jelly fish exhibits and even dissected a shark. Most importantly, however, he gained an understanding of what he liked about science: teaching others about it. When reflecting on his time as an intern, Dylan says “the internship helped me understand what aspects of science I appreciated the most, and what my strengths are. After the experience, I pursued a science degree alongside an education major in order to share exciting science with new audiences.”
To make the most out of his internship, Dylan asked a lot of questions. During his lunch breaks, he set up meetings with aquarium employees to pick their brains about their careers and interests. To current ASE Interns, Dylan recommends, “Be as open as possible and ask any questions you can think of to everyone you’re working with. Professionals are always excited to talk to new people interested in their field.”
Today, in addition to working as a science writer, Dylan is the program director for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL), a non-profit organization that informs state lawmakers about environmental issues. Dylan uses his devotion for science education that was fostered during his ASE internship to make complicated science concepts accessible to general audiences and legislators.
The ASE team is elated that Dylan’s time as an intern helped him determine and achieve his career aspirations. We are thrilled to have reconnected with Dylan and learn about his success as a science educator and advocate.