April 26, 2021 Category: What's New? Our Programs Partnerships

Ocean Alliance and the SnotBot: Career Awareness Students Explore Whale and Ocean Environment Research

As part of The Fresh Air Fund’s Career Awareness Program, Job Shadowings are an opportunity for students to explore their interests and learn about career options. With the support of incredible partners, Job Shadowings offer students a first-hand introduction to a broad range of career fields from fashion, to finance and even environmental education!

The Fresh Air Fund partnered with Ocean Alliance to create a three-part Job Shadowing workshop focused on environmental education and an introduction the SnotBot.

Ocean Alliance’s mission is to protect whales and their ocean environment through research, scientific collaboration, public education, and the arts. Ocean Alliance, a not-for-profit organization, was founded in 1971 by Dr. Roger Payne. Dr. Roger Payne is one of the people to discover that humpback whales sing songs. CEO, Iain Kerr developed SnotBot to collect biological data from whales non-invasively.

“I hope that students understand that we are all responsible at some level for environmental degradation. You cannot live your life without it at some level. In my own way – I like to say that I’ve come to terms with hypocrisy. Understanding that, I think is important,” CEO of Ocean Alliance, Iain Kerr said.

What is the SnotBot?

Ocean Alliance, a not-for-profit organization, was founded in 1971 by Dr. Roger Payne.

The first workshop introduced Ocean Alliance and the work the organization does to educate others about whales and the ocean. Assistant Director, Alicia Pensarosa, shared the history of Ocean Alliance and the origin story of the SnotBot. The presentation included amazing photos and videos from different research expeditions using the SnotBot.

“The SnotBot was developed because our founder and CEO were sitting on the bow of the boat getting frustrated while trying to get the biopsy from a whale – as it’s somewhat invasive because it takes a little piece of skin from the whale. They agreed that there must be a better way to do this,” Alicia said.

The SnotBot is a drone that flies over a whale and collects the blow or exhalation from the whale.
Photo by: Ocean Alliance

Fresh Air students were eager to ask questions from, “Where do you travel for research?” to “What is the largest whale that you’ve seen?”

“I did not know much about marine biology before but I enjoyed learning about it. I’m interested in technology and learning how drones help people to study whales was really interesting to me,” 14-year-old Alexander shared.

Design Thinking

Just as the invention of the SnotBot was inspired to solve a problem the researchers were facing, the second workshop challenged students to creatively problem solve and develop an idea that created a solution for any problem that a customer might have. Students were separated into two groups and collaborated on the issue that they wanted to solve and how they were going to solve it.  

The Ocean Alliance introduced a process to help guide students during the activity – and helped them focus on multiple steps: researching your target audience, recognizing the problem, brainstorming ideas for a solution, creating a sample of the product and finally testing it.

Led by the Ocean Alliance team and inspired by the process of how the SnotBot was invented, students collaborated on a design thinking project.

One group of students created an easier tool to streamline collecting multiple data streams from a whale. They designed a robot fish that had cameras for eyes and can collect samples with its mouth! Another group decided to find a solution to make tall people more comfortable by simply creating a taller chair, making it more ergonomic for a tall person.

Finding Your Passion

The final workshop focused on a panel discussion highlighting different roles within Ocean Alliance – from the CEO to a Science Manager. Each panelist shared their different career journeys and students had a chance to ask questions during a very enthusiastic Q&A session.

“We talked about our career path, how we got to Ocean Alliance, what we do and really show that anyone can be a marine biologist! We all have very different backgrounds, and we all wear multiple hats every day,” Alicia shared.

Panelists clockwise from top left: Assistant Director, Alicia Pensarosa, CEO, Iain Kerr, Science Manager, Andy Rogan and Communications Coordinator, Ann Cortissoz.

“I really liked learning about all the different jobs and their responsibilities. I was most interested in the science manager role and how they used the drones. I want to study computer engineering and I learned how I can apply different skills to a job,” Alexander said.

Thank you to Ocean Alliance for providing our Career Awareness students with this incredible opportunity!