Island School Semester Alumna, Jessie Gray’s, love for the ocean runs deep. As a child, she grew up lobstering with her grandfather off the coast of Maine. Today she is pursuing a graduate degree in biogeochemical oceanography, researching our ever-changing oceans. Between these two periods, though, she experienced 100 days that changed her life: a Semester at The Island School.
Like many young Semester students, Jessie entered her Island School experience ready to break out from her bubble at home and experience hands-on learning and research on Eleuthera. As she immersed herself in coursework and daily life on campus, she felt herself growing and learning to be a better environmental steward and community member. Jessie describes the turning point of her Semester as when she was dissecting a mahi-mahi and found a Barbie doll head in its stomach. For the first time she felt like she was “seeing things through a magnifying glass” both literally and figuratively. She brought this experience home with her where the rest of her passion and inspiration for marine biology and research exploded.
Jessie’s first experience on a research team was with the marine debris and plastics research group during her Semester. Working alongside scientists pursuing real-world research sparked an enthusiasm that she knew she wanted to continue beyond her time on Eleuthera. Upon returning home to Maine, she interned with an environmental consulting company where she conducted research on the water quality and invasive species threats to Casco Bay. From there, she went on to study Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). While many undergraduate students never enter a lab until later in college, Jessie was able to dive right into lab work as part of her studies.
Studying the Gulf of Maine, she learned that although it snows there for months of the year, it is warming 99% faster than the rest of the world’s oceans. She could see climate change occurring in her backyard. Fast forward through college and a Semester at Sea, Jessie graduated in 2021 from a hotel room in Hawaii while quarantined, waiting to conduct off-shore research. Through the completion of this research, she was able to secure funding to continue her graduate studies at UNH. Jessie hopes that her research will help prepare us for how oceans will continue to be affected by climate change. While plans are still up in the air upon completion of her master’s degree, one thing she knows is that she’d love to return to Eleuthera and give back to the programs that so dramatically impacted her path.
“I look back on how invested I’ve become in oceanography and marine biology and it’s so cool to be able to attribute that to what was seeded in Eleuthera at The Island School. The number of times that I think back to the things that I learned from my Semester, from academics to growing a worldview and expanding my sense of being a member of a community – it’s all sort of rooted into my career as an oceanographer. I feel so lucky to have had that foundation from a young age and have it push me into where I am today…The Island School is a lifelong thing for me and something that I hope to see grow as time goes on.”
Jessie is one of so many alumni living out our vision of leadership effecting change. Interested in sharing your story? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org today!