Honoring the Ocean

Sponsored by the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO), Honoring the Ocean is an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional course for students who are getting an adventure of a lifetime.  

Honoring the Ocean is an interdisciplinary experiential program of the Honors Colleges of five institutions of the Florida State University System (SUS) and sponsored by the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO). During the spring semester, 20 students, widely considered among the best and brightest of their schools, join professors and FIO, a statewide institute supporting ocean research and education, to explore humankind’s interaction with the ocean.

A set of virtual lectures taught by Honors faculty from Florida International University (FIU), University of Central Florida (UCF), University of Florida (UF), University of North Florida (UNF), University of South Florida (USF) prepare students for an adventure at sea onboard FIO’s research vessels. The program targets students from a very broad spectrum of backgrounds; no experience in marine science is required. The program is intentionally designed to foster collaboration among students and faculty from different fields. By working together, students are exploring interdisciplinary approaches to addressing critical issues facing Florida’s coastlines and oceans.

“This program encapsulates what Honors education is all about: interdisciplinary inquiry, experiential activities, and the creation of new knowledge through students’ own projects. That they get the chance to learn from faculty and interact with their peers at five Florida SUS Honors Colleges and FIO staff is what makes it an exceptional opportunity,” said Dr. Padmini Coopamah Waldron, Director of Honors Research at UCF.

The at sea experiences for the students takes place aboard FIO’s research vessels for field-based learning endeavors focused on the relationship between humans and the Gulf of Mexico. The topics covered are not typical for oceanography or marine biology. Ranging from the importance of ‘left handed’ Lightning Whelks to the earliest native Floridians to the role fishing plays in political structures and conflict to poetry, visual arts and journalism, students get to see the ocean around them with a sense of appreciation. The experience in the complex ecosystem that is the Gulf of Mexico can also be an asset to students seeking opportunities to work with government agencies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations especially in the state of Florida and its $74 billion Blue Economy. 

“The most important lessons of this ‘real-life experience’ were that the power of the ocean, the changing states of the weather, and the physics and physicality of boarding, living, and working in and on a working research vessel in the Atlantic Ocean is humbling and awe-inspiring, but results in an understanding of the value of safety rules and the captain’s authority, awareness of space and resources, an equity and humanity and need for each other, and the variety of sources and methodologies of gaining knowledge and disseminating knowledge. The Arts and Sciences were seamlessly joined together,” said FIU Professor, Dr. Gretchen Scharnagl

The course was imagined through a conversation between FIO Director, Dr. Monty Graham, and USF’s Dean of the Judy Genshaft Honor’s College, Dr. Charles Adams. USF is FIO’s Host Institution and played a key role in bringing the other SUS universities to the table to try something entirely new and it has worked beautifully.

“In Florida, the ocean touches all of our lives. Every penny of Florida’s $1.3 trillion economy either benefits from or is vulnerable to the ocean. All of Florida’s students should explore and understand their relationship with the sea,” said Graham.

The Florida Institute of Oceanography consists of 32 members including state universities. Established by the Florida Board of Governors and hosted by the University of South Florida, FIO provides support and shares marine science resources between the state’s universities and private, non-profit marine research entities. FIO operates the R/V Weatherbird II, R/V Hogarth and the Keys Marine Laboratory (KML) in Layton, Florida.

Check out the digital archive for students from “Honoring the Ocean: Sustainability and the Sea”: A partnership between State University System of Florida universities and the Florida Institute of Oceanography

Student and Faculty Quotes

“I am very excited and honored to be on this trip. By researching all about this part of the Gulf of Mexico, I gain an opportunity to learn more ways to help the oceans and coastline as I work towards a Coastal and Port Civil Engineering degree at UNF. This is my first time exploring on a research vessel, and I cannot wait to work on the boat the next few days!”

Abigail Remke, UNF

“The ocean has always been a source of fascination and comfort for me, and the opportunity to explore it in a way that so many people don’t get to experience was something I just couldn’t miss out on.”

Peyton McManus, USF

“I remember frantically emailing my honors advisor for a spot on this trip! I wanted so badly to meet other people who were passionate about the ocean and marine life while experiencing research aboard a vessel.”

Julia Moncrieff, UF

“As a graphic designer, I may seem like a fish out of water (pun intended) for this trip. However, I think it is important to broaden my horizons, in which this trip can be used for inspiration and knowledge for marine/science related designs.”

Arianna Lopez, USF

“I’ve always lived in Florida, but I’ve never truly had the educational opportunity to immerse myself in marine research or in understanding how we can sustain the waters that surround our state. Through this class, I’ve already learned so much about the ocean — through the fields of writing, politics, art, and journalism — and I cannot wait to experience a new understanding of the ocean on the Weatherbird II! There’s a whole world out there for us to explore, and I can’t wait to see what’s behind the horizon!”

Anna Voyatzoglou, UCF

“I am extremely fortunate to be a part of this trip. I have always wanted to be onboard a research vessel and now I have the opportunity. This is the first step is becoming a marine biologist and I am extremely grateful.”

Riley Garcia, FIU

“This trip means a lot to me because I was extremely interested in oceanography research but never got the opportunity to be a part of that environment. Additionally, I love the ocean and am super fascinated about all the amazing marine life and all that we can learn hands on.”

Javonte Thelwell, FIU

“I’m excited to be on R/V Weatherbird II because it’s my first time on a boat. Staying on a research vessel is an amazing experience for a coastal environmental science major like me. I’m grateful to the Hicks Honors College for providing an opportunity for us to connect with the ocean and for offering a class that strengths our connection with nature, sciences, and arts.”

Jessie Roncevic, UNF

“Being able to participate in a voyage like this gives me the opportunity to branch connections with my peers from other universities and learn from their perspectives, as well as from the experienced crew. I am appreciative for this journey, and am excited to learn more about the ocean, our interactions, and the knowledge that we gain from it!”

Lily Cope, UF