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Executive action

Ocean Sciences students make waves with new undergraduate society

special feature: The Student Experience

Part of a special feature highlighting the student voice, student experience and the range of student supports and opportunities available at Memorial.

By Kelly Foss

What do you do when you discover your department doesn’t have a student society? You create one, of course.

From left are Élie Pellerin and Carter McNelly at the Ocean Sciences Centre in Logy Bay.
From left are Élie Pellerin and Carter McNelly at the Ocean Sciences Centre in Logy Bay.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“Last fall I was sitting in a biology class when the Biology Society did an in-class visit to promote themselves,” said Carter McNelly, a second-year student. “I wondered why we didn’t have anyone come into our ocean sciences course, so I reached out to the department to ask.”

However, because the department had only recently become an academic unit, he was told they didn’t yet have an undergraduate society.

“They kind of left it up to me, saying ‘If you want to start one, that would be great,’ because they needed one – and I just took it from there,” he said.

Within a few weeks Mr. McNelly, who is a member of the Department of Ocean Sciences first cohort of majors, reached out to his fellow students and began the process of electing an executive, consisting of a president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary and two social chairs. OceanUS, the Ocean Sciences Undergraduate Society, quickly grew from there.

Membership benefits

Mr. McNelly became president and Élie Pellerin its treasurer. The pair are currently in their second year in the positions.

They say joining a student society has many benefits, from social activities to academic support.

“We run our own tutoring sessions and have notes for all of the ocean sciences courses that we make available to students,” said Mr. McNelly.

“It’s also nice to have people you can contact if you have questions about a program,” added Ms. Pellerin. “Academic advisors are great, but sometimes you want to talk to another student.”

Input on the future

Dr. Annie Mercier, the deputy head of Ocean Sciences, says she was delighted that the students formed a coherent group fairly quickly.

The Department of Ocean Sciences invited representatives from OceanUS to their departmental meetings and undergraduate studies committee and encouraged them to participate in the departmental review, making sure the students have input on future decisions.

“We’ve always had graduate students . . . but undergraduates are increasingly becoming part of the department.” — Dr. Annie Mercier

It is also working to build ties between its faculty and undergraduate students.

“For the faculty it’s still a new consideration to have undergraduate student involvement, because we’ve always had graduate students,” said Dr. Mercier. “But undergraduates are increasingly becoming part of the department and we’re certainly going to continue to interact as much as we can.”

The department has undertaken social activities with the society, including trivia nights and mixers at the Ocean Sciences Centre in Logy Bay and tours of all the labs in that facility.

“It was a great opportunity to visit the different labs, because ocean science is a very diverse field,” said Ms. Pellerin. “For that reason, it’s important to get the chance to explore your options.”

Unique challenges

The Logy Bay location does create some unique challenges for the department and its student society, however.

OceanUS is having a say on the future of the Ocean Sciences department by playing an active role in meetings, despite the unit's off-campus location.
OceanUS is having a say on the future of the Ocean Sciences department by playing an active role in meetings, despite the unit’s off-campus location.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“Last year, our big issue was disseminating information about the society and getting people interested and involved,” said Mr. McNelly. “That was made harder by the fact that we didn’t have our own society room, like the other societies did. While they had a place to bring people together, we had to hold our meetings in the library.”

Dr. Mark Abrahams, dean of the Faculty of Science, provided a room for OceanUS on campus, C-2059 in the Chemistry-Physics Building, and Dr. Mercier was successful in securing funding to install conferencing equipment in the space, which will allow them to link up to the OSC.

All are welcome

OceanUS invites all students doing ocean sciences courses or who are interested in majoring in one of the department’s programs to join the society and drop by their society room.

They can also be found on the Department of Ocean Sciences’ website, Facebook and Instagram. Positions are still open for second- and fourth-year class representatives for students interested in serving on the OceanUS executive.

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