Imagine a World Where Science Education is FUN – BIMS spotlight on Howard Forbes Jr.

This year, the ICB blog and BIMS, Black in Marine Science, will be collaborating to highlight scientists from the BIMS organization. We hope this collaboration will further foster connecting a phenomenal network of colleagues in marine bio and inform our readers about BIMS research as well as their continued work to not only create a network but also a safe space for their members.

This week , Howard Forbes Jr., MSc. , Director of Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service at the University of the Virgin Islands, details a bit about his work and helps us to imagine a world where science education is fun.

Howard’s post:

Growing up in the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), it is indeed odd that I never thought that a career in the marine sciences was attainable for someone like me. My family and I enjoyed time at the beach and although food was usually the highlight of these gatherings, I always looked forward to swimming in the big blue. While the ocean certainly piqued my curiosity, the connection between doing what I loved and my professional career wasn’t obvious. Career pathways in the geosciences (which includes marine science), were not among the more popular careers promoted at school. As far as I can remember, I’ve always had a love for the ocean; however, this love did not develop solely through my academic endeavors. Inside a “traditional classroom”, I learned how to think like a marine scientist; but it was outside of those four walls that I truly felt and saw myself as a marine scientist. Being able to observe Caribbean flora and fauna in their natural habitats and not only as a photograph inside a textbook allowed me to develop a stronger connection to the field. Informal STEM education has played an instrumental role in defining the marine scientist that I am today.

Figure 1: (Left) VIMAS Coordinator Howard Forbes Jr. and (Right) an upside-down jellyfish (Cassiopeia spp.), one of my favorite marine animals.

In my current role as the Coordinator for the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service (VIMAS), I draw from my many experiences and hobbies to make marine science come to life for the youth I engage with. As a gamer, scuba diver, plant enthusiast, and home cook, there are countless sources of inspiration for my work. The Youth Ocean Explorers (YOE) Summer Program, founded in 2016, is one such program I coordinate that has helped to transform the way USVI youth see marine science and prepares them for a career within this exciting field. The strategic use of technology within YOE, while not novel for STEM education, introduces an element of familiarity that helps students to connect better with the lessons. A virtual reality (VR) headset in a classroom may have been farfetched two decades ago, but today, this is the innovation that has the potential to redefine STEM education for the present and future.

Figure 2: VIMAS Coordinator Howard Forbes Jr. scuba diving with several Youth Ocean Explorers Summer Program students.

YOE, now in its 7th year of operation, takes advantage of the low cost of select VR headsets as well as the widespread availability of smartphones to seamlessly incorporate virtual reality and other immersive technologies into each lesson. Don’t have sufficient funds to explore a coral reef in the Pacific or kayak through an extensive mangrove forest in the Tropics? No worries! All you need is a smartphone and a VR headset to transport you to a new environment where you are in the front seat of this experience. By scanning the QR code or clicking the link below, you too can share in the YOE VR experience; scuba dive with us to learn about corals, the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, and how researchers in the USVI are working to mitigate the negative impacts of this coral disease. This use of VR is coupled with traditional classroom presentations to provide a momentary diversion which bolsters “learning and comprehension” instead of “memorization and regurgitation”.   

Figure 3: (Left) YOE students using their smart phones to help them identify common Caribbean flora and (Right) YOE students kayaking with the St. Thomas East End Reserve (STEER) to learn about the importance of mangroves.

Many people, myself included, lost interest in STEM around middle-school, which is a known drop-out point where students typically disengage from STEM. Looking back, I am forever indebted to the educators who reinvigorated my passion in STEM through their use of innovative approaches to teaching. It is because of them, YOE is more than just a summer program to me; it is my way of continuing the legacy of the phenomenal educators who weren’t afraid to not only think outside the box, but to think like there was no box.
You can’t become what you can’t see”.    

If you are an educator or just someone looking for a momentary diversion that could spark an inspiration, I would highly recommend checking out any of the nature-themed virtual reality, 360° videos on YouTube.
I get some of my best ideas when climbing to the canopy of sequoia trees.

Connect with Howard Forbes Jr.
Office: 340-693-1672
Website:   Twitter : @UVI_edu

and Black In Marine Science (BIMS) via

via Twitter BlackinMarSci and

Also enjoy a free read on Reefs from ICB

Do Coral Reefs Promote Morphological Diversification? Exploration of Habitat Effects on Labrid Pharyngeal Jaw Evolution in the Era of Big Data

by Kory Evans et al (@Evans_Lab_1)

Author: suzannecrmiller

Author of Queen, Wage, The Selections on Amazon, Fly on site and soon to be Souvenir through @Inkdedingray publishing

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