Two moments stand out in Tricia Beba’s senior year.
The second was being told she secured a full-ride scholarship to complete her undergraduate degree at the University of Washington’s School of Oceanography, worth more than $11,000.
The first illustrates why.
The Lake Stevens High School student spent the past two years studying at Ocean Research College Academy, a program through Everett Community College that let her simultaneously earn her high school diploma and a two-year college degree.
This past year, that adventure took her to UW’s labs at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, where she stayed up through the night to study the Bolinopsis jellyfish.
These alien-looking ocean creatures are bioluminescent – an in-born quality that allows them to, literally, glow in the dark.
Beba, 18, spent an entire night shaking a group of these gelatinous zooplankton, studying their behavior. At 3:30 a.m., she stirred them up again, admiring their brilliant blue flashes. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of green, a Aequorea victoria jellyfish giving off its own bioluminescence – a rare, unprovoked display.
“It was just mind boggling. But it’s cool,” she said.
Beba was among more than a dozen teenagers who took a chance two years ago, enrolling in the fledgling ocean research program. About one-third are now actively pursuing marine science careers, several finding themselves with hefty scholarship offers and research gigs typically beyond the scope of a high-schooler.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-sponsored program held its first commencement Friday. Together, the 16 grads collected more than $100,000 in scholarships.
Beba wants to continue studying Puget Sound’s jellyfish, including whether their colorful tendencies serve a communication role.
“It’s kind of an open market. There’s lots more to discover.”
She laughed, recalling getting the bioluminescent emissions on her hands, and making hand prints on her clothes, turning herself into a green glowing sea goddess.
“They’re really fun to play with, too.”