While observing dolphins at play at a beach in Florida as a middle school student, Summit Christian Academy student Belle Schooley developed a love for marine biology.
Schooley was assured of this interest after taking a biology class at school. Belle, now an 11th grade student at SCA, began to search for opportunities that would provide her with experiences needed to satisfy her interest and knowledge in the field.
Schooley’s exploration found an extraordinary internship program at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Shedd Aquarium, founded by John G. Shedd, plays host to more than 32,500 animals from around the world. It is a non-profit institution dedicated to caring for a vast array of species, as well as educating the curious observer and the newfangled researcher, alike.
Shedd offers several learning opportunities for high school students to investigate the lives and habitats of nearly 1500 species of water animals. For Schooley, this was the ideal environment to satiate her appetite for marine biology.
After Schooley engaged in an extensive interview process that included a trip to Chicago, Shedd invited her to participate in the high school lake ecology program. While it was not the marine biology experience she had hoped for, Belle decided to take the opportunity.
“The Lake Ecology program was not even on my radar,” Schooley said. “It was an honor to be considered to be part of the program and I felt it would give me experience in the exploration of aquatic life.”
Shedd Aquarium only invites students from Illinois or an adjacent state to participate in their programs. Schooley was the only student from Missouri.
The program proved to be a wonderful experience for Schooley. She and 15 other students, along with Shedd Aquarium staff, kayaked through sea caves and explored the ecology of the Great Lakes region in the Apostle Islands.
“It was the most fun,” said Schooley. “We even hiked and saw beautiful sunsets. It was a great outdoor experience. At night, we were able to star-gaze.”
Schooley’s weeklong visit to the Apostle Island included undertaking a focused research project. The students were divided into teams and immersed themselves in an investigation of some aspect of lake ecology. Schooley and her team chose to study plankton.
“We studied plankton at various depths. We are working on summarizing our findings and will present our project at a banquet (at Shedd) in August,” said Schooley.
The experience at Shedd Aquarium’s HSLE program helped Schooley to learn about herself and uncovered an interest in a very unexpected educational path.
“Belle was taking a path toward Marine Biology, but that path took a magnificent, breath-taking detour to Lake Ecology,” said Schooley’s mother, Kari Schooley. “This trip has made a big impact on Belle.”
Schooley will concentrate her college search on schools with parks and forestry as a degree option.
“It’s funny how life gives you the path you need to go in, even if it isn’t the path you start out on,” Schooley said.