Forging new opportunities through collaborations, exponential learning & new funding partners.

Ideate. Analyze. Evaluate. Collaborate. Fund. Create. REPEAT.

9 Jan 2023, By Loretta Williams Gurnell, B.S., M.Ed., Founder & CEO: SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation

In a time where learning still comes in all different forms where expected outcomes in secondary education and on the collegiate level is on the rise, hands-on activities that build problem-solving and critical thinking skills that include different learning styles is still a priority for transformative learning.

The HBCU STEMSEAS Scientific Expedition continues to dig deep after eight (8) days of sea living as the listener, learner, collaborator, researcher, community builder, data analyst and soon to be, co-grant writers.

Starting off the day, we heard from Dr. H. Justin Ballenger, Assistant Professor of STEM Education at Morehouse College & Deputy Director of Atlanta University Center Data Science Initiative on “Advancing Equity Through STEM Education & Data Science.” With a journey stemming from a small Black community in South Carolina where Justin and childhood friends were called the “garbage patch kids” because of the negligence of leaders who intentionally deposited a landfill in their backyard as a kindergartener. Justin, along with colleagues, now take inequities like that of his childhood and use them to empower STEM preservice teachers in the areas of research & design, environmental justice, and data analysis. In doing so, preservice educators, particularly those who will teach in marginalized school systems, have a full scope, a realistic approach, historical markers and skills to fully equip preservice teachers with a mindset and heart that drives success through transformative experiential learning.

As the day progressed, participants heard from Jon Lewis, professor of geology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and STEM SEAS Co-PI on Taiwanthe neotectonics of arc-continent collision constrained by modeling outcrop-scale faults and earthquakes. A student driven experience funded by NSF, HBCU colleagues and me, a nonprofit leader has yet another pathway to provide referrals and recommendations for the students we serve and mentor. Although this is a good opportunity, even with new knowledge and experiences like this one Jon shared, historically, HBCU’s and education startup nonprofits, like SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation face barriers to access to funding, resources and sustainable funding to support programs for our students, year after year. But good news came when we heard from STEMSEAS ONR – the Office of Naval Research program manager, Rob Sparrock sharing his background and career in naval leadership, along with his focus that drives diversity in thought, diversity of institutions and diversity in funding. This discovery shed light on ways HBCU’s, nonprofit startups and secondary education schools could partner with organizations like the Florida Institute of Oceanography to develop and sustain a pipeline of pathways that foster exposure to STEM education, research & development, internships, mentorships and tools and skills for advancing in STEM college degrees and careers. And believe it or not, all that took place before lunch!

Participants grasp new learning modeling for understanding global changes through drivers of these changes, led by Lisa D. White, PhD, director of education and outreach from UCMP

Back from lunch, we dug deeper into a collective brainstorming session of Low Hanging Fruit, Medium Scale Range & Big Projects/Ideas on — Why are we here? What can we build upon from this expedition? What skills, resources and potential partnerships can we explore that will move us closer to disputing the devastation of continual setbacks in our country’s rising new majority of middle class which compounds the poor in economics that ultimately impacts every area of our students and their families’ lives?

Participants grasp new learning modeling for understanding global changes through Earth’s systems & components.

Furthermore, as academicians and service providers, we have to stay connected and engaged with an increased interest in the things and content that drive interdisciplinary learning, lesson planning, research & develop along with exploration if we want to improve learning and learning experiences for all students, regardless of economics, ability, resources, gender, race and ethnicity. In as much, being the student, we had a chance to explore “Understanding Global Change”, led by UCMP’s director of education and outreach, Lisa D. White, Ph.D. Prior knowledge, interpretation, observation and vocabulary all played a part in the success of this group activity. Using their modeling system, we had a chance to model as teachers and students, learning how they would lead and learn from the introduction to review and developing hypotheses, using “What if,” as the foundation for each new cycle.

Participants grasp new learning modeling for understanding global change through the evidence of impact.

Then to wrap up the night, some of us braved the night air with the watching of the SpaceX launch of 40 OneWeb internet satellites from Cape Canaveral. This was a first for many of us, seeing the launch live and a first for all of us, seeing it from the R/V Neil Armstrong research ship. Click HERE to view.

Now that you’ve had a chance to take a look at today’s experiences, opportunities and backgrounds to transform our own ideas, biases and future performances, how can we connect to impact or explore ways to keep the intentionality moving forward where together we transform spaces in education, business, nonprofit and community for greater outcomes of sustainability? Your comments are welcomed below.

To learn more about the HBCU STEMSEAS Scientific Expedition or how you can sponsor future projects that open doors to experiential learning for underserved and underrepresented communities, visit and leave a comment or email Sharon Katz Cooper at for additional information.



Day 6 of STEMSEAS Cruise

Finally, the sea has gotten calmer, and the weather is warming up and our team energized. After breakfast, we started the day with a presentation from Loretta Williams Gurnell, Founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation (SGSF). Loretta shared her amazing professional journey and the outstanding work SGSF is doing in nurturing and transforming the lives of girls. This presentation was followed by a conversation with Mariah Kopec-Belliveau (2nd Mate, R/V Neil Armstrong) regarding  ‘Life on a Ship’. Mariah is the navigation officer of the ship who determines the cruise track based on meteorological data. She enlightened us with ship operations and the teamwork it takes to run this big vessel.

In the afternoon, Sage Lichtenwalner (Data Scientists, Rutgers University) gave us a presentation on NSF’s Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) and how the data can be accessed and utilized. This was followed by  a conversation with Sonia Bugger and Gabe Matthias (Shipboard scientific support group) on measurements that are taken aboard the ship. The Neil Armstrong ship is equipped with instruments to measure meteorological and surface seawater characteristics. We were given a tour of the ship to see the various instruments and probes onboard.

We ended the day with an informative talk by the chief scientist (Dr. Magdalena Andres) who shared her  NASA funded work on deploying CPIES (current and pressure recording inverted echo sounders) to calibrate the SWOT (Surface Water and Ocean Topography) satellite.

Overall, the day was productive, and I believe we are getting an experience of a lifetime. The STEMSEAS team is brainstorming on ideas to create more opportunities for HBCU faculty and students.

Mintesinot Jiru (Ph.D.)

STEMSEAS Participants group picture

Midway on the R/V Armstrong

It was yet another day filled with inspiring presentations and fun learning activities. Drs. Jon Lewis and Lisa White shared on their career paths into Geosciences after we had breakfast. In his work at Costa Rica, Jon explained plate tectonics using the faults of Costa Rica’s Northwest region. Dr. Lisa White’s love for photography and landscapes introduced her to geology. She is currently the director of education and outreach at UC museum of paleontology. She later led us into the fun world of fossils. We were reminded that fossils were not always that of dinosaurs. Later in the afternoon, Dr. Shondrika Burrell of Morgan State University shared her work infusing geoscience into teacher education while Dr. Dawn Lewis of Florida A&M University explained how bauxite mining impacted the microbiology and biogeochemistry of soils if they are not reclaimed.

Today was my first weekend on board a ship. The feel of the ship has gotten better, and I am always happy to catch the sun early in the morning or before it sets each day. With some luck and patience, you will find some dolphins swim by too. I couldn’t get pictures, but Madison shared her video with the group. The meals have been great and the small discussions in between sessions have been insightful.  I am looking forward to sharing all these fun information and opportunities with my students when I get back home.

Emmanuel Atta-Obeng, Phd.

R/V Neil Armstrong HBCU Inaugural Expedition

I wrapped up my previous day/started a new day by assisting with the successful launch of an XBT (expendable bathythermograph) at 0145 this morning for research being conducted by Dr. Magdalena Andres.  We also received our souvenir shrunken cups from the CTD that went down to 2575 m.  Overall, it was a fun day structured around group activities that were designed to help us get to know one another better, punctuated with an impactful discussion about equity led by Dr. Shondricka Burrell.  I am looking forward to the events for tomorrow and will close out with a stern view of the moon.

Dwight Ebanks, Ph.D.

Research Operations on the AR-71–STEMSeas-HBCU partnership

Today was a full day of research operations for us on the AR-71 STEMSeas-HBCU Partnership transit. There were scheduled deployments of CTDs, XBTs, and CPIES at specified sites along the transit towards Cape Hatteras in the Atlantic Ocean over a 24-hour period starting at 6:30AM Thursday, January 5th and ending 6:30AM Friday, January 6th.  Each instrument is designed to collect quantitative data about the water column. CTDs measure conductivity (a proxy for salinity), temperature, and pressure (a proxy for depth). XBTs (Expendable Bathythermograph) instruments collect pressure and temperature data. CPIES (Current, Pressure, Inverted Echo Sounder) collect bottom pressure and vertical acoustic travel time data (a proxy for temperature and salinity profiles) as well as near bottom current measurements (velocity of ocean water). The CTDs and CPIES will be in place to collect data over the next 18months.  

The goal of the data collection is to understand water movement and sea surface height variability. This data will help us understand currents and heat transfer by currents which has implications for ship travel. These data will also be used to help calibrate and validate measurements from a new satellite, SWOT which is Surface Water Ocean Topography. [To find out more information about SWOT, see]  The deployment of this array is part of the Adopt a Cross-over program AdAC east of Cape Hatteras. [To find more information about AdAC see]

The cruise headed by Chief Scientist, Dr. Magdalena Andres, a physical oceanographer, was assisted by undergraduate students, a graduate student, and science techs specialized in research vessel technology. We as HBCU faculty representing 6 institutions were tasked with launching eight XBTs along the transit. [To meet the STEMSeas-HBCU participants see 

Participating in these research operations is a unique experience. It is both immersive and experiential. Immersive as we live on the ship with various conversations about the ocean sciences. Experiential in that we are physically engaging in data collection and understanding how the data is analyzed. Although it is only Day 3 of the STEMSeas-HBCU Collaborative transit, this space has been generative. We have shared about potential collaborations amongst our various institutions– SUPERgirls (a non-profit), Tennessee State University, Coppin State University, Morehouse College, Savannah State University, Florida A&M, and my home institution, Morgan State University. We have had conversations about our specific research areas, the ocean sciences, and how to develop a geoscience ecosystem that improves access to such immersive and potentially transformative experiences for students who are currently and historically poorly represented in the geosciences. I have a few takeaways and wonderings thus far. How do we provide meaningful learning and research experiences in the geosciences for students currently and historically under-represented in the field? How do we build academic pathways into geoscience majors from pre-college spaces? How do we build capacity for learning and studying the geosciences through in-school and out-of-school learning spaces K-16?

I am personally excited to be a part of the experience and look forward to what comes next.

Shondricka Burrell, PhD, Morgan State University

Early part of the adventure…

Tuesday January 3, Latitude 41 31.430154N, Longitude 070 40.332901 W

As we got ready to embark, we all got an opportunity to get to know each other, we got our safety briefing and learned a little about the journey ahead of us.  We ran a drill so we can all experience putting on our emergen-suits.  We also signed up for meal times, (since there are more people on the ship, including crew, STEM Seas, and WHOI then there are seats in the mess hall) so that we can spread ourselves out throughout the day.  3 meal slots for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – 20 mins each.  I chose the middle slot so I can see folks transitioning from the early and the late.  Food is great by the way, We have had something new so far each day, for each meal, with plenty of options to choose from.  The ship runs on diesel and coffee, so at least coffee is always available. 

We each brought some knickknacks from our home institutions to share with each other as an icebreaker, and we shared these after dinner.  We have folks representing several HBCUs and other institutions as well.  I am enjoying getting to network with folks from WHOI, URI, FIT, Rutgers, UNC, FAMU, Savannah State, Berkeley, Tnstate, Coppin, Morehouse- CAU, Supergirl Shine, Columbia, Morgan, IUP – representing stem education, data science, and geosciences broadly.  As of day 2 on the water (Wednesday), we are still on our way to the first station.  In the meantime, we are still getting our sea legs under us and a few of us are adjusting to the motion better than others.  I seemed to be ok (also took some motion sickness medication).  I tried to figure out the best way to get my balance while the ship rocked, and it was rockin!  But I feel ok, even better after a nap too!  After lunch, we got together for an overview of the STEM Student Experiences Aboard Ships (Seas) project and learn discussed potential opportunities for future collaborative projects.  I completed a puzzle of an Ammonite, then did it upside down to complete a challenge.   Looking forward to the next day when we reach our first station and start deploying equipment.   Currently passing by Latitude 37 30.705642 N, Longitude 073 31.352289 W

  • Reginald Archer, Tennessee State University

Underway on the R/V Armstrong

We set sail on R/V Armstrong on January 3, 2023 from Woods Hole heading to Pensacola, FL on a cruise designed to build partnerships and opportunities between STEMSEAS and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Our group includes 12 people and 10 institutions represented, including 6 HBCUs. Before getting underway we explored the dynamics of ocean currents in a rotating table top wave tank with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Assistant Scientist Alex Gonzalez (see this resource and other affordable materials for geoscience teaching here, demonstrations. In the evening, Chief Scientist Magdalena Andres introduced the group to the nature of eddies in the Gulf Stream and other physical properties of the North Atlantic Ocean. We look forward to learning more about these loop currents as we steam towards Cape Hatteras where we will collect CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) data, among other things.

Lisa White