Paty’s Quest for Excellence in the Bahamas

Paty Calderon, 2016 College Prep Scholar and Quest for Excellence Award Winner

When Paty Calderon applied to the College Prep Scholars Program last year, she received a full scholarship to a summer program through the Quest for Excellence STEM Award that took her on an amazing journey of discovery and learning in the Bahamas. Read Paty’s story below!

Upon researching the QuestBridge summer programs awarded to College Prep Scholars, I was amazed by the opportunity of researching with the Island School in the Bahamas. I have always been very passionate about the environment and how marine life is affected by human actions, so the Island School was the perfect place for me to engage and learn with my surroundings through important research I really cared about.

When I first received the scholarship to attend the Island School, I cried of excitement. It quickly dawned on me, however, that I did not know how to swim, and so I emailed the program coordinator at the Island School to ask if this would be an issue, since it was a marine research trip. He replied saying that we would figure something out, and that it shouldn’t hold me back from participating.

I arrived to the Island School extremely nervous. I had never spent more than four days away from home, and I had no idea how to even float in the water, and now I was in a foreign country for a four-week research expedition that would take place entirely in the water! Not knowing how to swim was definitely a challenge, however my expedition team was so incredibly supportive from the start. I felt completely included, loved, and encouraged to never give up. I have never met such a supportive group, and because of their motivation, I learned to swim by the end of the trip.

The Island School gave me the opportunity to complete marine research on depleting organisms in the Marine Protected Area, an area in which research permission is rare. We learned to sail and lived on boats as we sailed along the Exuma Islands (the Bahamian Marine Protected Area) and collected data on intriguing and important organisms such as sea urchins, conch shells, grouper, and lionfish.

The expedition trip was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it presented many obstacles that made me challenge myself in ways I never had before. We were always constantly working, hot, usually tired, and hungry. Reality hit us hard, and living on a 30-foot sailboat with eight other people taught me a lot about patience and my limits. I learned what working as a team truly meant, and I learned how to stay on the positive side of everything I do. The life lessons I learned from the expeditionary trip will definitely stick with me my entire life.

Family dinner of rice and lentils after a beautiful day sailing and researching in the Exuma Islands.

The research we conducted was also completely life-changing. We were researching in such a rare location, the Bahamian Marine Protected Area—or the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We were taught for the first week on the value of our research, and on what we would be researching. Every day of the expedition, we would sail to a new location and collect new data on the organisms we were researching. I learned so much about a new environment, new organisms, and how to be conscious of the environment. I have never participated in research in such a hands-on way. I felt so lucky every day to be doing what I really loved in such a beautiful place with such passionate instructors and team members.

Upon returning to the Island School from our expedition, we analyzed our data and put together presentations for the Cape Eleuthera Institute, the founder of the Island School, and for the parents who came to family weekend. It was so rewarding to see our research come together, and to hear the impact it would have in contributing to other research that would impact Bahamian environmental policies.

The people I met at the Island School changed my life. I have never met such genuinely kind people who care for one another. I was so moved by the sincerity the people living at Cape Eleuthera possessed, and I loved stopping to talk to people who greeted me in passing. The Island School itself was so incredible to be a part of. The sustainability and incredible science taking place in such a real-world way was so inspiring to me. I felt so excited about environmental science and marine biology because of how well everything was managed, with the environment and the ocean in mind at all times.

The Island School Expeditionary Trip, although definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, was the most rewarding, amazing, and unforgettable experience I’ve ever had. I am currently in an AP Environmental Science class, and I make at least one connection to the Island School every day with what I’m learning in class. The Island School has stayed with me in its mission to provide a sustainable and hands-on learning space for students. I now know I really want to pursue environmental science. I am so grateful to QuestBridge and will keep the lessons I learned and memories I made dear to me for the rest of my life.

– Paty Calderon

Want to have an experience like Paty’s? Apply to the College Prep Scholars Program for high school juniors, and apply for any Quest for Excellence Awards for which you are qualified!