May 25, 2019  

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GCRL’s Summer Program offers new field-based classes for college credit

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Zaida Hager, 2011 Summer Field Program student at Southern Miss’ Gulf Coast Research Lab, holds a specimen discovered during the marine invertebrate class’ trip to Horn Island. Dr. Richard Heard and Southern Miss grad student T.J. Fayton are pictured in the background. (Office of University Communications photo by Leah Mathias)

Melissa Morrow enjoyed her experience so much in the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory’s Summer Field Program that she stayed for a second term.

“There’s a difference between learning something from a book and learning something in the field,” said Morrow, a senior majoring in marine biology at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo. “It’s easy to memorize information from a book but that doesn’t halfway compare to working with the specimen itself. There’s also a thrill factor of being in the field.”

When asked what she would tell other students about GCRL’s Summer Field Program, Morrow, who took shark biology first term and marine mammals second, responded enthusiastically with one word, “GO!”

College students from across the U.S. travel to the Mississippi Gulf Coast every summer to experience the “hands-on learning” offered at GCRL’s Summer Field Program. This year the summer program’s enrollment is up with students in attendance from 44 colleges and universities across 19 states.

Several new classes were introduced this year including coastal herpetology, dolphin and whale behavior, and coastal marine geology.

“Students have the opportunity to explore the northern Gulf -- from sharks, dolphins and whales to marine ecology and parasites in marine organisms,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lotz, chair of coastal sciences, the Southern Miss department that is headquartered at the GCRL and oversees the academics.

College students who attend these summer sessions can earn up to 18 semester hours of science credit while attending the field-based program.

“We have students who are enrolled at colleges and universities from throughout the United States as well as local students who plan their summer schedules around our unique program,” said Lotz. “This year marks the 64th year that the Lab has offered marine field courses. For many of our summer students, a field trip aboard one of the Lab's research vessels is their first at-sea experience.”     

First term courses which ran May 31-June 28 were marine biology, shark biology, marine invertebrate zoology, marine ecology, and parasites of marine animals. Second term offerings, which run from June 29-July 28, include marine biology, oceanography, marine mammals, marine ichthyology and marine aquaculture.

“The professors are top-of-the-line,” said Zaida Hager, a senior double-majoring in animal biology and environmental science at Texas A & M University -- Corpus Christi, who took marine invertebrates during the first session. “Dr. Richard Heard is a legend in marine invertebrates. I love that we’re being taught by professionals who are leaders in their fields.”

Hager, who took coastal ornithology during the May mini-session, said, “By the end of Maymester, I knew I didn’t want to leave.” So she decided to see what courses were being offered first and second terms.

“It’s cool because you get to study outside every day,” said Hager. “It’s easier to learn about habitats when you’re actually in the habitat.” She added that sampling techniques she learned while in the field during the marine invertebrate class would be difficult, if not impossible to learn in a classroom setting. “There’s a big difference between learning about trawling in a classroom and actually trawling aboard a boat.”

A third term mini-session will be offered August 1-12 with three courses including oceans and human health, coastal marine geology and marine toxicology.

Options are also available for upperclassmen to conduct independent research under the direction of a GCRL scientist. Research areas with a marine focus include aquaculture, biodiversity, submerged aquatic vegetation, ecology, mycology, journalism, genetics, remote sensing, education, fisheries, parasitology, pathology and toxicology.

The mission of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, Mississippi's marine laboratory, is scientific discovery related to coastal and marine resources, development of new marine technologies, and the education of future scientists and citizens.

For general information, contact Sam Clardy at 228.818.8890, or go to For admissions information, contact Margaret Firth at 228.818.8890 or