25 Nov. 2012: Representing 600 student members of the Marine Technology Society (MTS) is one thing Ryan Vandermeulen and Camille Pagniello have in common.  As MTS Student Reps to Council Ryan, 28, of Biloxi, Mississippi and Camille, 20, of Halifax, also share a high regard for this Washington, D.C.-based professional organization.  MTS helped bring them to where they are today: Ryan is working as a satellite remote sensing analyst at Stennis Space Centre in Mississippi, and Camille is in her third year in the Honours Co-op Program in Marine Biology and Physics at Dalhousie University. Her area of interest is anthropogenic noise and its effects on marine mammals.

When Ryan received a Master’s degree in Marine Science with an emphasis on biological oceanography in August, he began his metamorphosis from student to  professional. His involvement with the MTS Student Section at the University of Southern Mississippi and at Oceans ’11 in Kona stood him in good stead when he was ready to enter the job market.

“Jerry Boatman (President of MTS) really helped me incredibly,” Ryan says, “by providing professional contacts after I graduated.” Boatman gave him a list of people to contact, told them his background, and vouched for him as a good student, relates Ryan. “He got me scratching around the Naval Research Lab, which is how I found my current employer.”

Another piece of the story was the support of Ray Toll who was the Chair of Oceans ’12 in Hampton Roads, Virginia. “He knew people at the Stennis Space Centre whom he had met at a previous Council meeting, and passed on my resume,” recalls Ryan, who sent his resume to the Student Liaison of the Gulf Coast Chapter of MTS. “Those were the three main distributors who were going around bragging about me,” he says, his voice full of appreciation.
During her three years as an MTS member, Camille has attended five conferences including both the Oceans ’11 MTS/IEEE conference in Kona and this year’s Oceans conference in Hampton Roads, Virginia. (PHOTO LEFT: L-R: Drew Michel, MTS President Elect, Camille Pagniello, and Liz Corbin, MTS Past President, at the Student Mixer at the Oceans ’11 MTS/IEEE conference in Kona.)She goes in order to attend the all-day student leadership meetings that take place there each year. “It’s a great way to exchange ideas, to see what other students are doing, how we can improve our student section, and give feedback to MTS directly,” she reports. But that’s not all. Meeting people from all over the world who are working in the field is another highlight. “When you put yourself out there, you meet really great people,” says Camille who is now looking forward to meeting up with Cathy Hogan, Administrative Officer of OceansAdvance, and other Newfoundlanders she met in Virginia.

Thanks to an NSERC (Natural Sciences and Education Research Council of Canada) Undergraduate Student Research Award, Camille will be coming to St. John’s in January for four months to work on a research project at Memorial University. Through the Biology department, she will be working on a research project with Dr. Ted Miller on the acoustic communication of shore birds that will involve designing two labs for his marine mammals class and comparing the vocal anatomy of female and male hawks. “I hope to meet up and catch up with the people I met from Newfoundland when I’m there,” she says. “They offered to help me get settled.”

Reflecting on the Oceans conferences, for Camille, the biggest benefit has been being able to spend time with the people she has met who are working in the oceans community. At Oceans ’12, it was an eye-opener to meet people working in ocean technology companies in Halifax she had never heard of. “The awesome thing was to go around and meet all these people who were local—literally in my backyard—and I didn’t know half of these companies existed or what they did.”

Camille is planning to invite some of them to speak with the students in her section about what they do. “There’s a really big disconnect between what students are taught in the classroom and what employers are looking for,” she observes, pointing out that she learned computer programming and modeling after finding out from her MTS contacts that these are important skills to have. “I’ve grown my professional network and developed a sense of what I need to do to get to where I want to,” she says. So far, her costs of attending these conferences have been covered through sponsorships but Camille notes that she would continue to attend future Oceans conferences even  if she has to pay her own way.

Getting students enthused about marine technology is a high priority for MTS, as it is for Ryan and Camille. In his second year as a member, Ryan was elected MTS Chair of the Student Section. With support from MTS’s ROV Professional Committee, he and his colleagues took the “ROV in a Bag” program to high schools to involve students in building their own ROVs from switches wired to three motors, PVC pipe, connections, and flotation material. Ryan’s group gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Archimedes’ Principle (regarding buoyancy) and then turned the students loose on putting together ROVs. (PHOTO: MTS Education Booth at the Oceans ’12 MTS/IEEE conference in Hampton Roads. At the booth, ROVs from the ROV-in-a-bag program and other kits for students were available to test.)

“Our first gig was for a high school robotics team that was preparing for a big competition,” he recalls. “They flew ROVs in a pool and used a fishing camera we’d bought for $100.” The next thing he knew, a high school group preparing for an ocean science bowl came to Stennis Space Centre where they drove a professional ROV around a pool, instructing it to grab toys they threw on the bottom.

Learning about ROVs from university students strikes a chord, observes Ryan. “When they hear people who are three and four times their age telling them about these things, they think, ‘Oh man, it’s so far away.’ But when people who are five to seven years out of high school are doing these really cool things, they get excited about it. It’s a tangible possibility.”

And when he talks about opportunity in the sector, he’s not making anything up. What Ryan is finding in his work as he develops applications for the visual infrared imager radiometer suite (VIIRS) sensor—to measure light at different wavelengths to analyze ocean biogeochemistry from space—is that advancements in computer processing power are enabling the development of higher-resolution products which are making it possible to see ocean processes affecting climate change and sea-level rise on a global scale. “I’m learning new things every day,” he says. “It’s very exciting. It’s a new way of ocean monitoring.”

When he was a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi, Ryan and eight fellow student members of MTS drove two and a half hours to Gulf Breeze, Florida to visit the Environmental Protection Agency Lab where they toured a nationwide diver training facility, the geographic information systems section, remote sensing and optics section, coral reef lab, and fisheries lab.

“There was something applicable for all the students who went,” he reports. Reflecting on the trip, he says students end up getting pigeonholed in the university setting where they are tightly focused on their own area of interest. “You get stuck in a rut,” he adds. “It was nice to see all the different disciplines collaborating.”

The way Camille found her way to MTS was by entering “marine science scholarship” in a Google search. She wrote an essay and received a Remotely Operated Vehicle Scholarship ($7,500), followed by an MTS Undergraduate Scholarship ($2,000), and this year she received the Charles H. Bussmann Undergraduate Scholarship ($2,500). “They’ve helped to relieve the stress in worrying about paying for school,” she says. “This way, I feel like I can focus on school. It pays for part of my tuition. I have to work fewer hours, so I can focus more on my studies.” She has set her sights on a PhD in Biological Oceanography / Marine Biology.

Camille and Ryan are currently developing a web site that will serve as a hub for MTS-member students that will enable them to learn from each other (CLICK HERE TO VIEW) in much the same way the two MTS Student Reps to Council have learned from fellow students at the Oceans conferences. “It’s a really cool opportunity because we get to see both sides,” says Camille. “The site is being given to everybody, and we get to be part of that giving—plus we get to see the inner workings and how much importance MTS places on students.” She says people on the MTS Council are always e-mailing her to ask her opinion. “I get to represent all these students,” she adds. “I absolutely love it because it’s always someone new to me. It’s an ever-revolving door of opportunities.”
Asked how long he plans to remain an MTS member, Ryan says, “I don’t think I’ll ever stop being involved with MTS. Having this opportunity as a student and being appreciated at that time in my life, I want to give back and pass it on in the future.  As a professional member, I want to help students have those same opportunities and experiences. Not only networking with leaders in the field, but being part of the creative process and shaping some of the policy—those are the sorts of opportunities that make me want to keep up my membership.”

Students who are looking for information regarding MTS can reach Ryan and Camille at mtsstudentreps@gmail.com.