Stony Brook Southampton, though now a deserted shell of what it used to be, continues to serve a purpose for the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences as well as a handful of students in Christopher Gobler’s Intro to Biological Oceanography class.
Every Thursday afternoon this semester, about twenty students pack onto a shuttle bus from West campus and travel 46 miles to their old Shinnecock Hills campus to go out into the bay and ocean to collect samples and get first-hand experience with real research.
But students may not have to do this much longer as they have a new choice on the horizon. The Semester by the Sea program, which is slated to start next semester, will offer students the chance to live on the Southampton campus for a semester and take all the classes they are required to take that are only offered there.
“We did have more undergrad participation, but we are still doing the research,” Gobler said. “It’s just more difficult since they were pulled off campus.”
The marine complex, housed at the Old Fort Pond in Shinnecock Bay is an oasis for students to practice marine research. The campus is quiet and almost dead now, but when the students got off the long bus ride, which many of them slept through, they immediately started to look at their research from last week’s trip.
But the five-hour ordeal, as some students call it, used to take less time when Southampton was still up and running, now is more of a burden.
“It’s not the same,” said Charlie Conino, a student in Gobler’s class who was at Southampton up until it was effectively closed last year. “It used to be every class you took here you would go out into the field. Now the Southampton campus is going to waste.”
But the purpose of the class, according to Gobler, has not changed. The mission is to still give undergraduates hands-on experience that they wouldn’t get elsewhere, and though collecting phytoplankton for testing is by no means groundbreaking, the class still gives students a chance that others don’t.
“Unlike the classes that are offered on the main campus that teach the basic concepts in the classroom, here we walk out on the deck and show the students in the ecosystem how the process works in the real world,” Gobbler said.
The boat, an R/V Paumanok, is a 44-foot ocean-going vessel, is the classroom for these 20 or so students. They spend almost an hour on it once a week and collect samples of phytoplankton. They also measure depth of visibility and take water samples back to the lab to measure chlorophyll content and oxidation.
Hands-on research for undergraduates is rare, and even though this particular research is not something that garners many results, it is still something that makes Stony Brook unique among other schools and the Southampton campus different from the West campus.
“This is much different than doing a lab in the basement of a Stony Brook building,” said Victor Yam, a sophomore in Gobler’s class. “They are actually looking for students who have done research on a boat. These kinds of classes provide first-hand experience of what it’s like to be out during an internship that requires these skills.”
Long Island is a unique place for these students to learn because of their surroundings. According to Gobler’s teaching assistant Ryan Wallice, a graduate student, the surrounding bays are all unique from one another.
Wallice said looking at and studying each individual area would better prepare students for jobs and graduate school. It is something he said you couldn’t get anywhere else.
“Before I became a grad student, I worked in a lab and it really helped me out because a lot of these classes, especially at Stony Brook, you don’t get a lot of field experience,” Wallice said. “You really have that extra step completed when you enter a lab because you do know how to do some field work.”
But the field work on a boat breeds more than just experience for later in life. The students that do this each week have all become friends and it’s a small remnant of the community feeling they say was found at Southampton.
Since the closure of the campus, there have been groups of students fighting to get what they lost back. But some of these students, although angry their school was taken from them, feel that the fundamental aspect of what they do has not changed.
“It really hasn’t changed too much. They all stay similar to how they collect data; you go out on a boat, take water samples and come back, I mean it doesn’t really matter if the campus was closed or not, it doesn’t really impend how the data is being collected.” Yam said. “Its just there are time restraints now.”
But some disagree. On the trip back to West campus, students on the bus were visibly saddened by the tease of coming back home for five hours.
“I miss coming to this dock at night,” one student said. “So many good times.”