Spotlight on NEOSEC Ocean Literacy Summit Planners – Mark Wiley and UNH Sea Grant

Mark Wiley is the NEOSEC representative from UNH Sea Grant and is serving on this year’s Ocean Literacy Summit Planning Committee. Mark volunteered to be on the committee saying, “The summit is always a great event, a valuable event.” Mark has been part of NEOSEC since the beginning. He says, “I was at the first pre-NEOSEC meeting, which was part of a COSEE grant. I sat on a panel and we talked about standards. A bunch of us met to talk more about the need for an umbrella organization for collaboration. NEOSEC has been a remarkably successful model. A lot of us make a priority to be involved.”

UNH Sea Grant and NEOSEC have common goals to support ocean literacy, incorporating OL with NGSS. UNH Sea Grant benefits from its close ties with NEOSEC. Mark elaborates, “NEOSEC is made up of a lot of people and organizations. I’ve always thought of NEOSEC as a wonderful resource for collaborators, to partner and network with people who do what we do. NEOSEC has been effective for us in that way.” 

Sea Grant is a federal/university partnership with a mission mandated by the US Congress to foster sustainable development of the nation’s coastal resources. Operating through a university-based network, Sea Grant colleges balance the conservation of coastal and marine resources with a sustainable economy and environment. Examples of this work are aquaculture, marine biotechnology, and fisheries recruitment and conservation. UNH was designated a Sea Grant College in 1991 based on its record of superior performance.

Being an informal educator is a big part of Mark’s job. He markets the UNH marine education programs to New Hampshire teachers and schools. He is seeing a resurgence of interest in the UNH programs. “The move to standards-based learning had reduced experiential learning. Professional development was tied to performance to test standards. The base of NGSS is to do science to learn science.” That is the type of education UNH Sea Grant provides.

In addition to being the Assistant Director for Marine Education, Mark also is the director of the UNH Sea Grant Marine Docent Program. Mark describes, “This is a multiplier of my capacity to do marine education programming. We have 200 trained volunteers that do school events. This program started 45 years ago as a tour group for one of the labs and it has grown to so much more. We give the docents significant training, two sessions a week from September to April. They need that much training because they don’t work from scripts. They need to be able to respond on the fly. Everything is very interactive. They do hands on group activities.”  

Prior to working at UNH, Mark was a high school teacher. Mark recalls one of his students, “In my very first marine science class, we did a lot of field trips. It was a small class and there was a high level of engagement. One of my first students is now a teacher. He got in touch with me through Facebook. He messaged, ‘You were my role model. I have a realization of the impact I’m having on my students like you had on me.’” Mark continues, “Sharing as a teacher ripples through your students.”

Mark is concerned about the impact of a lack of scientific knowledge. He says, “We suffer from a public that doesn’t have a lot of science literacy. We are seeing the result of that ignorance. I don’t think it’s willful. People don’t know enough science to believe what scientists say. They think scientists are making things up. We all have to make decisions about energy and climate change, but you need to understand it first. Our role is to reach younger students and the general public. We want to help them understand how the world works. That’s a challenge.”

Mark, thank you for your work educating the public and with supporting NEOSEC!

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