By Gale Fiege, Herald writer
Q: What is ORCA?
A: The Ocean Research College Academy in Everett is a program like Running Start, through Everett Community College. I did my first two years of high school at Lakewood, but I was happy to be accepted at ORCA. My brother went through ORCA, too, and loved it. It’s a rigorous and challenging program that is better and more compelling for me. I can focus on science.
Q: So will you graduate from Lakewood, ORCA and the community college in June?
Q: How many students are in the academy?
A: About 40 juniors and 40 seniors.
Q: What are some of your classes?
A: Right now, chemistry and calculus at the college, and English, marine biology and oceanography at ORCA. English and history at ORCA are focused on critical writing and analysis.
Q: Where are you headed for college and what do you plan to study?
A: I’m going to the University of Washington to major in public health, and more specifically epidemiology. I am especially interested in childhood diseases. I would like to work in Africa for awhile.
Q: Where in Africa?
A: In Malawi. I want to go back. I spent time there with a short-term missions project through my church, Warm Beach Community. We helped out in an orphanage, where the kids had HIV and suffered from malaria. It was a life-changing experience. It’s one thing to read about poverty, but to see it in person makes it so much more real. It totally opens your eyes. What happened in Malawi plays a big role in my goal to become an epidemiologist. Eventually, I would like to earn a doctorate in epidemiology and work for the World Health Organization.
Q: So, we understand that you did an unpaid internship last summer at the Snohomish County Health District. What was your project there?
A: I studied toxins in cosmetics and prepared a presentation that the health department is still offering in area high schools. There are preservatives, chemicals called parabens, that are not regulated and show up in all kinds of shampoos, deodorants and creams. Parabens have been linked to cancer.
Q: We also understand that you recently returned from the Washington, D.C., area, where you delivered a paper at a national undergraduate research conference run by the National Science Foundation. What is your research?
A: I am studying the local river otter population. The otters are so cute and sociable. They have parties on the dock together.
ORCA director Ardi Kveven skippers our school’s inflatable craft and we go out to Jetty Island each week. I download photos from a motion-sensor camera we have over there and I collect otter scat. I examine the scat to see what the otters are eating and check it for the presence of giardia and other harmful protozoa. Cat poop, which washes down creeks and storm drains, is showing up in the Snohomish River as a vector for these protozoa, which can be toxic to marine animals. The research isn’t fast. It’s a lot of data collection. Over and over, week after week.
Q: Will you present your research again?
A: Yes, at the ORCA open house at 6 p.m. Thursday and at the University of Washington’s undergrad research symposium in May. I also hope to have it published.
Q: What do you like to do when you aren’t studying or looking through a microscope?
A: I like to hike at Mount Pilchuck and in the Paradise Valley Conservation Area and bike the Centennial Trail, especially the newest part north of Arlington. I also teach Sunday school at my church. And I like to hang out on Jetty Island in the summer with my friends.
Q: Jetty Island is an interesting place, isn’t it?
A: Yes, it’s a man-made island, but it has naturalized and has its own ecology. I’ve seen coyotes over there and all kinds of raptors and other birds. I love being outdoors. It’s so cool.
I also had a job at Wendy’s for awhile. It was good because I learned how to work and I learned how to talk with all sorts of people. Every experience is a good one.