Local Focus: ExplorOcean Educator Wendy Marshall Travels to Icy Wilderness

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wendy 2ExplorOcean’s Director of Education, Wendy Marshall, Ed.D., will soon be roaming the sub-Arctic wilderness around Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, where polar bears congregate in carnivorous summer crowds almost like puppies at a dog park.

In the process of studying the northland’s climate-related changes as part of an environmental fellowship awarded by the international EarthWatch Institute, Wendy’s afraid that she might get bitten — not by bears or mosquitos, but “by the travel bug,” she said. 

Travel and study in the less-trod locales of the world have been long-driving forces that coincide with her passion to teach, ever since having earned her BS in Sociology at UCLA in 1995.   

Raising two children while “focusing on providing learning experiences in diverse settings, as well as building my educationalwendy 3 credentials” has relegated travel to “next to nil,” Wendy admitted. This field experience will “launch a new era” in her life.

Prior to receiving her doctorate from USC in 2012, Wendy taught Bi-lingual Education, before entering the field of educational publishing, where she focused on producing learning materials to “help underrepresented children develop and realize their college dreams.”

Wendy’s STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), ocean-oriented programs at ExplorOcean attract more than 15,000 students annually from school districts throughout Orange County. She and her staff of teachers and volunteers have introduced Newport’s complex marine environment to many children who, educators and parents admit, had never before seen the ocean in person.

The first to admit that teachers should be perpetual learners, Wendy definitely will once again be the student during her intensive, two-week Canadian visit as she and her fellow fellows, in EarthWatch’s words, “establish an environmental monitoring program to collect baseline quantitative data on climate-related changes in northern ecosystems.”  

Through labor-intensive efforts by a multitude of international teams throughout the year, this “people power makes it possible to collect large amounts of data in a relatively short period of time,” EarthWatch explained.

In addition to her desire to contribute to global knowledge, Wendy’s adventure requires copious amounts of dedication, as well as mosquito repellant, mosquito net head wear, sturdy rain gear, knee-high rubber boots or waders, pocketsful of Power Bars, a love for (or at least no aversion to) discomfort, constant attention to surroundings (read curious and hungry polar bears), and above-average physical conditioning.

wendy 1Although she still has to purchase some of the robust protective clothing and equipment requisite for a stint in those wilds, Wendy’s conditioning is champion-class. Not only does she ride her old, three-speed bike 16-miles to work and back home to Huntington Beach at least three times weekly, but she is a frequent runner of marathon distances whose superb conditioning will at least assure a healthy lead over her coworkers should a polar bear wander on-scene. Fortunately, EarthWatch provides appropriately armed monitors at each study site.

Wendy and her nine-person squad will focus on the isolated wetlands bordering Hudson’s Bay, and assist fulltime scientists in both field and lab research as they study snowpack, permafrost and soil; the occurrence of vascular plants, lichens and mosses, wetland water quality, amphibian tadpole metamorphosis and annual growth rings of trees.

“A global perspective is very important,” Wendy said. “What happens up there affects us all, and may serve as a predictor of what may happen here in our own wetlands.”

It has been confirmed that there is pronounced changed related to climate in the arctic region. “What I hope to understand is to what extent that can be a predictor of what may transpire down here,” she said.

“My goal (as an educator) is to share information about our discoveries, then tie those results into what we know about Newport’s local marine environment,” she said. “I’ll study how people study, and how field research related to climate change in a wetland environment is conducted – then include that into ExplorOcean’s educational programs to help students along their career pathways.”

Wendy will be spending the Fourth of July in some of the world’s wildest wetlands. Any fireworks heard there probably will be the cusses from those who forgot to apply sufficient mosquito repellent at the start of the day.

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