Ocean Science for Everyone

Continuing a decades-long partnership that began in the 1980s, a group of 21 Road Scholars visited BIOS last month for an educational laboratory and field experience as part of a weeklong trip exploring Bermuda's historic forts and secret gardens. Road Scholar, originally known as Elderhostel, gives older adults access to immersive educational opportunities around the world that focus on science, history, architecture, art, and culture.

In early March, a group of 21 Road Scholars visited BIOS as part of a Bermuda-based learning adventure entitled Bermuda Unveiled: Historic Forts, Secret Gardens & More. Since 1975, not-for-profit Road Scholar, originally known as Elderhostel, has been giving older adults access to experiential learning opportunities around the globe.

During their evening at BIOS, the program participants, who ranged in age from their 60s to late 80s, attended a talk on marine plankton from education officer Kyla Smith before heading out to conduct a nighttime plankton tow aboard a small research vessel. Once back on land, Smith guided participants into one of the Institute’s waterfront labs to sort through the water samples and identify plankton species under a microscope.

“I loved meeting the young scientists and observing their enthusiasm for the work they do,” said Kit Tunney, a Road Scholar participant from Massachusetts. “It was fun to participate in a night collection of plankton. It has been a long time since I looked at anything under a microscope and I found it fascinating.”

Bermudian Tim Rogers, study leader for the “Bermuda Unveiled” program, has worked with Road Scholar for nearly 20 years, and his history with BIOS goes back even further. In 1985 and 1986, his girlfriend Mary Anne Slope (now his wife), was an intern with Robbie Smith, a BIOS adjunct faculty member and curator of the Natural History Museum at the Bermuda Aquarium, who was also conducting his doctoral research on coral reef ecology.

BIOS Road Scholar 2020

The group, led by former BIOS employee and current Road Scholar team leader Tim Rogers (center in red cap), spent the evening with BIOS educator Kyla Smith, who gave a presentation on marine plankton, took participants on a plankton tow aboard a research vessel, and joined them in the lab to help identify plankton under microscopes. Many program participants reported that this experience was one of the highlights of their trip.

During that time, the Institute’s new education director, Sue Cook, contacted him. Impressed by his bachelor’s degree in biological science and a post graduate teaching certificate from the University of East Anglia in England, she asked him to join the education team at BIOS.

For three months, Rogers gave lectures to visiting groups from local schools and overseas colleges and universities. He also assisted with the science-based programming for Road Scholar groups delivering one-hour lectures on Bermuda’s geology, leading participants on nature walks along Ferry Reach and snorkel excursions in Whalebone Bay, and assisting with plankton tows.

“I kind of fell into Road Scholar, but what inspired me was the opportunity for adults to visit Bermuda and experience the island’s natural history in a deep and meaningful way,” Rogers said.

In his current position, Rogers coordinates Road Scholar’s Bermuda program with a team in Boston and delivers a portion of the programming while the group is on island. Rogers estimates that, in the last four to five years alone, he has brought more than 25 Road Scholar groups to BIOS.

“The experience that BIOS offers is unique and guests always love it,” he said. “Indeed, it ranks as one of the highlights of many people’s visit as they get to experience what it’s like being a scientist for a few hours.”

BIOS has been involved with Road Scholar’s program in Bermuda since 1983, with multiple groups visiting each year to learn from the Institute’s scientists and educators. Until 2015, BIOS operated full Road Scholar programs, including Atlantic Coral Reefs of Bermuda, Science in Bermuda Shorts, Birding Bermuda: Endemics and Migrants on an Oceanic Island, and Walking Bermuda’s Railway Trail. Today, BIOS provides shorter educational experiences to complement weeklong Road Scholar programs on the island.  

“There is no age at which we stop learning and this is apparent when Road Scholars come to BIOS,” said Kyla Smith.