Dana Clark is on an Alaskan cruise this summer. But this Dallas teacher isn’t lazing on the deck of a luxury liner; she’s working on a research vessel run by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. KERA caught up with the award-winning science teacher before she left for Kodiak, off Alaska’s southern coast.
Dana Clark’s a happy woman. This school year, she was named teacher of the year at DISD’s Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School. And now she’s spending 10 days in a place where high temperatures just barely nudge 50 degrees. Out of 250 applicants nationwide, she earned one of just 25 slots in this year's Teacher At Sea program, and is one of five teachers on board NOAA’s research ship, the Fairweather.
“It’s going to be very exciting. It’s going to be hard work, though,” Clark says. “The sun’s up a long, long time up there, so I can work a day shift, I can work a night shift. It just all depends on what needs to be done that day.”
Days last 18 hours on Kodiak Island, 3,000 miles northwest of Dallas, where NOAA’s ship left port Monday. While on board, Clark will at times be more a student than teacher and more worker than anything else as she helps map the Alaskan coast and its constantly changing sea floor.
“Think of the Exxon Valdez,” Clark says, “and the horrible oil spill when it grounded itself. Or you look at the fishing industry and when you trail-net along the bottom of the sea floor, there are some areas that’ll just totally rip up their nets. So they need to know what’s down there. And they’re able to mark off certain areas.”
The work is both necessary and important, says Jennifer Hammond, who runs NOAA’s Teachers At Sea program.
“She will be spending about 12 hours a day helping to collect data on the Alaska gulf coast line to provide nautical charts so we have safe navigation," Hammond says.
You may have figured out NOAA doesn’t need free summer help on board. Hammond has an ulterior motive.
“We are really trying to reach girls in science,” Hammond says. “Encourage them to participate in research and then maybe one day come work for NOAA.”
Hammond says an enthusiastic teacher can be the great motivator. Clark understands. She wanted to teach English before a college advisor interested her in science. She fell in love with it and never looked back.
“I’m curious as a teacher,” Clark said. “I teach science and it’s all about curiosity. And it’s about asking questions and doing experiments. And here you have a real-world experience that you can bring to the classroom. And to me that was the catch. That’s why I want to go. It’s exciting. Science is the world around you and you have to go out and explore the world.”
Clark’s done it before on a science trip to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and another to study sea turtles in Trinidad. But Alaska’s been uncharted territory for her. Until now.
She offering regular updates on NOAA's blog before, during, and after the trip.