Catherine Teare-Ketter's eyes simply sparkle as she describes what her students experience during her summer course in marine biology offered to undergraduates at the University of Georgia.
"When you see one of these kids holding a starfish or a seahorse for the first time, and you recognize that look in their eyes - the utter joy of discovery - it's an amazing feeling," she said.
The summer session course in biology of the marine environment has changed students' ideas of the oceans, and Teare-Ketter is a whirlwind of energy as she talks about the program.
"One day we caught a baby shark, and I had students taking pictures with their cell phones and calling their moms to show them," said Teare-Ketter, laughing.
While the course and its two field trips - one to Georgia's Sapelo Island and the other to the Gulf Coast off Florida's panhandle - are extremely enjoyable to students, serious scholarship is at work.
The course, MARS 1020, which is for nonscience majors, has drawn increasing interest since it debuted as a summer class in 2001. "The class has two field trips, the first to Sapelo Island around the last week in June," said Teare-Ketter. "We spend half a day out on a boat in the ocean and half a day in the tidal marshes, studying the environments. Many students say that they understand how these systems work for the first time by seeing them in action."
The second field trip is to sea grass beds off the Gulf Coast, which are rich with ocean flora and fauna and provide students an excellent chance to snorkel in beautiful, pristine waters. On this field trip, the group also spends half a day on the Wakulla River, a manatee breeding area, where they will see manatees and they might see a bald eagle.
Because the course satisfies a core curriculum requirement, students are eager to take it. But Teare-Ketter's goal is more ambitious.
"I want them to be enthusiastic, environmentally sensitive lovers of the outdoors," she said.