Katherine Ball, 17, is a senior at Lake Stevens High School and a Running Start student in Everett Community College’s Ocean Research College Academy. Ball in March hosted a conference at the college about the impact of marine debris in Possession Sound. As an ORCA student, she conducted pioneering research to examine micro-plastic pollution, which are microscopic by-products of degraded plastic bags, bottles and other materials, in local waters.
Question: Tell me about the “Action and Oceans: How Our Actions Today Affect the Oceans Tomorrow” conference you hosted at EvCC.
Answer: The goal was to educate the public on marine debris and focus on the issue locally. There were booths talking about what people can do to help with information from the Friday Harbor Whale Museum, the Puget Sound Alliance and Deep Green Wilderness about what they are doing to protect our local marine environment in Possession Sound and the Salish Sea.
There was a panel of scientists that included Ian Miller, with Washington Sea Grant; Julie Masura, of the University of Washington in Tacoma and Peter Murphy, from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. The discussion was led by fisheries scientist, Rebecca Reuter.
Q: I understand you organized all this as was part of your Girl Scout Gold Award project? Can you tell me a little more about your experiences with scouting?
A: The Gold Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve. I’ve been a Girl Scout since I was in kindergarten. It gave me opportunities to try a lot of different things. I did camps and leadership programs. I got a lot of good leadership skills and cool experiences.
Q: And how did you become interested in oceanography?
A: When I was 11, I got a book called “Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion.” It was about Seattle oceanographer, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, tracking trash. He reveals a different way to look at oceanography. I found it really interesting and just kept getting more interested.
Q: What are you researching at ORCA?
A: I have a big research project where I’m looking at correlations between current feeds and micro-plastic concentration. Plastics have always drawn my interest. I realized I could start studying exactly what I want to locally. Puget Sound has little information available about currents so I figured I could add to that.
Q: What do you think you’ll take away from your experience at ORCA?
A: I’ve been in three different high schools. ORCA offered a close community with a lot of cool opportunities and people. I gained a solid understanding of interdisciplinary connection. The research experience is also great.
Q: I understand the independent research you are doing is typical of that conducted by college students at the graduate level?
A: Yes, even as an undergrad, you’d usually be researching a professor’s question. At ORCA we get to ask our own questions. That’s important to me because I’m a person who’s very inquisitive and independent.
Q: What other activities from high school do you think will help you as a scientist?
A: I was part of the speech and debate team freshman and sophomore year. Having that experience of being able to debate either side of an issue will help me see where other scientists are coming from.
I’m also giving a 10-minute talk at the University of Washington’s undergraduate research symposium in May. My talk will be on the research I’m doing and my results. It was a year-long project. I first collected samples in the field and now I’m analyzing them in the lab.
Q: How are your grades and what will you graduate with this spring?
A: I’ll graduate with honors with an Associate of Arts and Sciences from EvCC when I finish at Lake Stevens High School. My grades weren’t as good once I got into ORCA because it’s college. I think honors means I have at least a 3.6 GPA.
Q: What do you like to do for fun?
A: I backpack and ski. I volunteer through the National Parks Service Student Conservation Association. I’ve done trail work in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve also done backcountry campsite restoration in Yosemite National Park. Both of those were at least a month of living out of a tent and getting food brought in on horseback. They were good team dynamic experiences. You work with students from all over the country with very different backgrounds. It was really interesting.
Q: Who have been the major influences in your life?
A: My dad because he made the choice to make a drastic career change and go into conservation. He realized he’d spent 13 years doing a job he wasn’t enthusiastic about. From that, I learned I could do whatever I wanted with my career and to do something I believe in.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: Right now, I’m debating between studying physical oceanography at the University of Washington or marine geophysics at Eckerd College in Florida. I’ll probably double major in general physics at either of those schools. After college, I want to be a field researcher for oceanography. There’s an ocean debris clean up that I’d also like to get involved with.
Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org.