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Diving deep into research

FGCU senior joins California research team to probe the mysteries of life beneath the ocean’s surface

FGCU senior Onyeweenu Ogene has learned a lot about persistence. The environmental studies major and marine enthusiast learned about a research opportunity with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California her sophomore year. She applied for the position, not realizing it was meant for upperclassmen.

“I applied again my junior year thinking, ‘I got this, I’m gonna get in,’” Ogene said. “I didn’t really put effort into my application; I just didn’t put a lot of effort in the writing, and I didn’t get in.” The third time was the charm for Ogene, who was a member of scientist Lisa Levin’s four-person research team in San Diego for the summer. Ogene’s role involved looking for environmental patterns in videos of the deep ocean that were taken by a remotely operated vehicle in the Pacific Ocean last year.

“I’m looking at the fauna, looking at what animals are there, looking at the substrates (surfaces on which organisms grow and live), looking at what kind of sediment is there at different locations and comparing that with the environmental data, like the pressure, the oxygen and salinity,” Ogene said. “I’m basically trying to identify patterns in that data so we can better understand what’s going on deep in the ocean, because we don’t know a lot.”

Ogene’s project was technically challenging. Between extracting the videos from a computer-sized drive, and recording her observations, it took 40 minutes to get through a single 5-minute video, she said. Beyond what she discovered in the lab, Ogene said she learned more about what she wants to pursue after she graduates in December: public outreach and policy.

“How can we communicate better the science, and make it to where everyone can get what’s going on?” Ogene said. “That’s the issue. A lot of policy that would benefit the ocean is not happening because people just don’t really know what we’re saying or what’s going on, because it’s not easy to understand.” The Scripps internship was Ogene’s second research experience. Last spring, she completed a senior research project in Hawaii, using Honors Program funding to conduct surveys in Hawaii about the state’s plastic bag policy.

Such projects have confirmed her idea that scientists have a hard time communicating with non-scientists. “It’s interesting working with scientists who care, but there’s still that barrier of how to communicate this to people,” Ogene said.She said many FGCU professors have inspired her to pursue the marine science field, including John Herman, who taught her General Ecology. Herman remembers Ogene from the fall 2014 class. “It was easy to see that she was immersed in the material,” said Herman. “There was always that flicker of ‘what’s behind this?’”

Herman wasn’t surprised to learn that Ogene was working with the Scripps Institution. “She has tons of drive,” Herman said. “The fact that she went after such a high quality internship speaks to that. I honestly wish more students would do that: Take bigger risks.” Even as she finished her internship, she was looking ahead for new opportunities. Her advice for students looking for research experiences is not to be afraid to reach out to other people for help, and to never give up on what they want. “If you really want something, you have to chase after it,” Ogene said. “You have to be persistent.”