[Brite]n Up the Day the OCG Way

Contributed By Makenzie Kerr 

From camps to computers

As cities closed and camps were cancelled, our computers opened. The Brite program gave our University of South Florida’s Oceanography Camp for Girls alumni a chance to immerse themselves into a new, engaging, STEM program from the comfort of their own homes. For three weeks, the girls logged onto Zoom, Flipgrid, and World Science U to participate in fun activities, inspiring live talks with scientists, and even sang a song or two.

OCG Girls on Zoom

 Oceanography Camp for Girls alumni sing the camp’s call and response song,
led by Program Director Teresa Greely (top left). 

Oceanography Camp for Girls

The University of South Florida’s Oceanography Camp for Girls (OCG) is an annual 3-week summer ocean science exploration program for young women in Pinellas County hosted by the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida. Our mission is to inspire and motivate young women entering high school to consider career opportunities in the sciences. OCG provides authentic, experiential research experiences in both laboratory and field environments. Professors, research scientists, and graduate students at USF provide scientific mentoring, while alumni campers serve as peer mentors to “new” campers while enhancing their own communication and leadership skills. Under the interdisciplinary umbrella of oceanography, participants are directly involved in disciplines in which women and minorities are most often underrepresented: chemistry, geology, physics, engineering, and mathematics. OCG will celebrate its 30th year of camp in 2021. 

Mission possible

While everyone was stuck at home, these girls had a mission to complete, can we make a virtual camp work? During the Oceanography Camp for Girls, rising 9th grade girls experience what it is like to be a marine scientist in the lab, in the field, and in the classroom. Throughout the experiential journey, they make connections with science mentors, and each other. All these field trips and lessons show these young ladies what a career in STEM can look like for them, while building their curiosity and self-esteem.

Is it possible to give this type of experience on video calls??

Having the upper hand of already completing the in-person oceanography camp, with the exception of one Brite participant, these girls were selected to help facilitators Makenzie Kerr and Teresa Greely find the best practices of virtual interactions and learning.

Art x science

Each week of the Brite program had a different theme, starting with Art x science. At the beginning of each day, the girls met Makenzie and Teresa on zoom to participate in an ice breaker and learn about the plan for the day. The girl’s favorite ice breaker was singing the OCG camp song. There is nothing like a camp song to get you in the summer spirit.

After each small group met, girls from all over the country joined a live speaker whose career focused on the intersection of art and science. Jennifer Adler was one of the girl’s favorite speakers of the week, combining her love for marine science and ecology with photography. Being from Florida, the girls enjoyed seeing pictures from their home state springs and wildlife. Heather, OCG alum, said “this week gave me a lot of hope for the future because I really like art, but I didn’t know you could combine it with science, so that just shows me that there are probably a lot of careers out there that I can choose from.”

The end of the week culminated with Britefest, a wrap up event where girls from all over the country shared their work from the week. Lauren, OCG alum, shared her T-shirt design of a Racka Sheep. Lauren said, “To make it a bit more sciency and biology, I added a skull on the right-hand side. I really like animals. Everything about them is so fascinating. It doesn’t really need to be on a molecular or cell level, but you know nervous systems, skeletal systems and organs and stuff are super cool to me.” 

Racka Sheep T-shirt design

Lauren, OCG alumni, Racka Sheep T-shirt design.


The second week focused on dangerous careers! Being an oceanography camp, of course our girls favored the marine scientist speaker of the week, Amani Webber-Schultz, an early-career shark biologist. Olivia, OCG alum, talked with Amani about how to choose the best marine science college. Amani told Olivia it is best to pick a college with the specific discipline you are interested in, for example, marine mammals or plankton.

One of the activities the girls really enjoyed this week was creating a volcano at home. After being inspired by a real-life volcanologist, Jess Phoenix, the girls drew volcanos, baked lava cakes, and even made their own experimental volcanos at home. 

Haiden, OCG alumni, made an explosive volcano out of a vase. 

 Mind Matters

The final week was themed around the brain. The first speaker of the week was Kaitlyn Hova, a professional violinist and neuroscientist. The girls were fascinated by her neurological phenomenon called synesthesia, which allows her to see sounds as colors.

Their favorite activity of the week was Eyewire, an exciting, interactive game which allows you to map real 3D neurons in the brain. All the girls from Brite that played the game got to name one of the neurons. To top it off, they got to meet the Executive Director of Eyewire, Amy Sterling. She talked about how important it was to follow her dream and not give up. 

Eyewire game. Photo by: Seung Lab

Goodbye for now 

After three weeks of spending every day together, it was hard to say goodbye. This virtual camp had a larger effect on everyone than initially anticipated. All goals were met with flying colors. The girls made connections with the facilitators and each other, increased their passion and confidence in science, learned about amazing careers and many ways to get there, and enjoyed using new technology together.

While it was goodbye for now, it will not be the last time the girls see each other. The Oceanography Camp for Girls keeps alumni in the family forever. Each year the group gathers for two reunions that help the ocean environment, including beach cleanups and other alumni events. Sea you soon, OCG!

Special thanks to the Brite creators for making this summer extra special for so many girls out there. We can’t wait to participate again!

Stay in touch

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OceanographyCampForGirls

Instagram: @OCGoutreach

Twitter: @OCG_Outreach

OCG Logo

Makenzie Kerr, an Oceanography Camp for Girls (OCG) alumni, is now a University of South Florida (USF) OCG Science Mentor and Intern with Dr. Teresa Greely. Makenzie recently graduated with her master’s degree at USF’s College of Marine Science and is also working in Dr. Mya Breitbart’s genomics lab as a Lab Manager & Outreach Coordinator.