Future Spartan is already building an MSU network through underwater robotics and academic career research

Alpena High School student assisting the Stör science team in capturing video and data in the Black River.

High school is a good time to explore career opportunities – an idea that a student at Alpena High School took to heart. Liz Thomson will soon be a proud student at Michigan State University. But even before attending MSU, she combined career research in the workplace with networking in college.

Last year (and next summer) Thomson worked for Michigan Sea Grant and gained experience combining a passion for underwater robotics with an interest in future scientific careers. Along the way, she found plenty of opportunities to have fun and add interesting learning, leadership, and career experiences to her resume.

Dr. Kim Scribner and Doug Larson lead a marine sturgeon research team from MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. With the support of the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, they are starting a new citizen science project to track the movement of spawning sturgeon along with other fish species in the Black River (Cheboygan River Watershed). Thomson contributes to the project.

The MSU sturgeon science team is installing cameras over the water to record video of the various large fish that migrate in the Black River during springtime sturgeon spawning. Thomson explored the options for underwater video and helped install an underwater camera that could be used to verify species identification in video data collected during this project. Her project reflects a career opportunity supported by the Michigan Sea Grant and a recently funded NOAA B-WET Great Lakes Scholarship that supports meaningful educational experiences for youth in northeast Michigan.

Thomson enhanced her expertise in applying underwater technology to science through her leadership role at the Alpena 4-H Underwater Robotics Club and her participation in the NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s MATE Underwater ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) competition.

She was part of several underwater robotics teams that were successfully built and successful across the state and nation. As part of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI) in northeast Michigan, she was also involved in various hands-on experiences with learning about Great Lakes and natural resources in elementary, middle, and high school. The initiative is a regional on-site education network and partnership led by MSU Extension and Michigan Sea Grant.

This new project enables Thomson to explore careers in Great Lakes and natural resources, and to aid in research designto better connect the citizens with the administration of the state threatened sea sturgeon.

While at Michigan Sea Grant, Thomson has supported educational programs for Great Lakes in northeast Michigan, ranging from fishery science to youth education projects. “Michigan Sea Grant has provided me with great connections and networking opportunities from the Lake Sturgeon Project and the NEMIGLSI network,” said Thompson. “Working with Sea Grant staff has helped me improve my skills in data entry and summarizing assessments and surveys.”

In addition to this in-the-water project, Thomson worked with a local Sturgeon for Tomorrow Chapter and educators from the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service to customize their sturgeon education program for Great Lakes educator audiences. This summer she hopes to do some customized educational activities with teachers – and the data gathered as part of this citizen science disruption project will be incorporated into these customized lessons.

Michigan Sea Grant helps fuel economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal and Great Lakes resources through education, research, and outreach. Michigan Sea Grant is a collaboration between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU extension and is part of the NOAA National Sea Grant network of 33 university programs.

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