A School for Aquarists

Kenneth WingerterBy Kenneth Wingerter 4 years ago
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aqsMaybe you’ve worked in a key position in a groundbreaking aquaculture facility. Maybe you’ve traveled the world extensively on killer dive trips. Maybe you have an advanced degree in the marine sciences and have already led some fine research teams. Maybe you’ve authored a well-received book in some area of interest. Hell, maybe you’ve done all of those things. But, you do not know everything. Far from it. Aquarium science is the consummate multidisciplinary field, and however deeply involved you get in it, there will always be new things to learn. Formal academic instruction is available for those who work in (or desire to work in) the huge, diverse and ever-changing aquarium industry. The small handful of institutions that offer these programs is scattered across the country. These different programs are about as varied as the industry they train for. However, the biggest and broadest among them may be the Aquarium Science Program (AQS) offered by Oregon Coast Community College in beautiful Newport, Oregon. This type and level of specialized training is apparently in very high demand; an impressive 94% of AQS graduates go on to find work in the industry. Now, before my shout-outs get too loud and proud, I would like to add that I myself am AQS alumni, part of the graduating cohort of 2011. Not only did I have a really good time there, I was also greatly impressed by the quality of the instruction and breadth of the training. The faculty and facilities, above all, were just awesome and always exceeded my expectations. And today, it only looks better. Many important individuals have remained there, although the staff have grown in size overall. That, and the campus itself‒the college has since put a dedicated aquarium science facility into use. Completed in 2010, the AQS Building was first opened for classes in the fall of 2011. Set up much like a public aquarium facility, this 9,500-square foot facility functions as both a classroom and laboratory to include a water quality lab, teaching lab, animal holding lab, food preparation lab, life support room and a workshop. While students do spend plenty of time in a more traditional classroom setting, it is here that they may practice anything from fabricating equipment to culturing live feeds. But students do not just sit on campus, either. In this highly intensive program, students travel widely to varied operations ranging from zoos to fish hatcheries. Out-of-state trips are available for those wishing to visit premier institutions across the country. And right within a stone’s throw, students have access to the adjacent Hatfield Marine Science Center (an amazing research complex with a little piece of fish nerd heaven, the Guinn Library) as well as the world-renowned Oregon Coast Aquarium. The area offers excellent recreational opportunities as well, including some amazing fishing, surfing, tide pooling, hiking, diving and whale watching. Depending upon their goals and academic background, students can choose between a two-year and a one-year degree program. Those enrolled in the former can receive an Associates of Applied Science (AAS) Degree in Aquarium Science; those enrolled in the latter can receive a Certificate of Completion in Aquarium Science. To enter the two-year degree program, one must have received a high school diploma or GED; to enter the one-year certificate program one must have completed a Bachelors degree or higher in the Life Sciences or a related field of study. All applicants are expected to obtain SCUBA certification prior to or during enrollment. The coursework, of course, includes varied subject matter such as Fish and Invertebrate Health Management, Exhibits and Interpretation, Animal Husbandry in a Research Capacity, Introduction to Scientific Diving and Elasmobranch Husbandry. To read more about this unique educational opportunity, check out the following overview in Drum and Croaker: http://drumandcroaker.org/pdf/2013.pdf. For a more detailed description of registration and classes, please visit: http://oregoncoastcc.org/aquarium-science.

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Kenneth Wingerter
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