Students Join Pros in UChicago Program: Marine Biology Lab experience offers unique opportunity

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//PICTURED ANOVE: Dr. Barbara Fishel, Brandi Finazzo and Dr. Coleman explore the Marine Biology Lab in Woods Hole, Mass.


In just a few days, 20 students will be studying the development of embryos, observing genes functioning on a molecular level and working with various organisms at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. From Nov. 10-17, they will learn from professional researchers and gain hands-on laboratory experience.

After receiving applications, Dean of Studies Dr. Barbara Fishel and biology teachers Dr. Katie Croft and Brandi Finazzo used a blind selection process to choose 20 students, giving priority to juniors and seniors. Junior Emily Stevenson was one of the students selected to attend.

“Science has always been my favorite class, and I had a childhood obsession with marine animals,” Stevenson said. “I’m excited to see a bunch of species of animals that you normally only see in pictures.”

The MBL, affiliated with the University of Chicago, is the site of numerous research collaborations with UChicago faculty. Some of its major focuses include cephalopod research, regenerative biology and adaptation of ecosystems in the face of global change.

Although the MBL had previously only offered programs for professional researchers, graduate students and undergrads, it started offering courses for local high school students in 2017. Eugene McDermott Head of School Dr. Karen Warren Coleman then connected with MBL to set up a partnership with the laboratory.

“They certainly thrive on having people on site who are curious, insatiable learners, and that’s who I know our girls are,” Coleman said. “I think the more Hockaday can do to introduce experiential opportunities, the better, but I want to make sure that anything that we do is commensurate with the quality of the Hockaday experience.”

To preview the experience, Coleman, Fishel, Croft and Finazzo visited the lab last spring.

“We just had a marvelous time. We stayed for two days, and it was busy, but we just never wanted to leave,” Fishel said. “Dr. Coleman was as excited as anyone, so we were determined to do whatever it would take [to offer the opportunity].”

Thus began a long journey of reconciling Hockaday’s busy schedule with that of MBL. The laboratory also needed time to develop a course according to what the biology teachers wanted. “Everybody was fully committed and on-board with us building in this awesome travel program,” Coleman said. “The biggest challenges are always figuring out all the details. The logistics are complex, but not insurmountable.”

However, once the plan was set, the biology teachers said they were confident the experience would be worth it.

“When I saw the wealth of the marine organisms that were there that we don’t have access to, it opened my mind to all of these possibilities,” Croft said. “For the students, I think it will open so many doors and possibilities for them, and take their minds in so many different directions.”

In fact, Finazzo said she wishes she could take all of her anatomy students to the lab.

“The whole time we were there in the spring I thought, ‘This connects to my classroom, this connects to anatomy and the embryology piece is exactly what we do in class,’” Finazzo said. “The mermaid’s purses, I mention them, but we don’t see them and we certainly don’t hold them, and these are all experiences that they can have that are hands-on.”

The biology teachers will use this year’s experience to evaluate plans for next year. Fishel said she hopes that eventually, Hockaday students will be able to go to the MBL in the summer and work with biologists on a research project.

“I think it’s important to note that this is the first step to a much broader experience for the student body,” Finazzo said. “It’s evolving, to use a science term. It’s a work in progress, but we’re excited about every step.”


Story by Kelsey Chen

Photo by Dr. Katie Croft

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Kelsey Chen

Kelsey is a junior and an avid supporter of all-day breakfast (bonus points if you have crepes!). In ten years she hopes to be the proud owner of an insta-famous toy Australian shepherd.

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