Back in April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), announced the students who had been selected as "Ocean for Life" participants for 2011. Cranston High School West/CACTC junior Emily Tilton was one of 11 in the United States to participate in the two-week field study in Santa Barbara, Calif., along with 15 other students from several Middle Eastern countries.
Tilton credits her CACTC aquaculture teacher, Len Baker, for encouraging her to apply for the program. According to Tilton, the application was a challenge in itself, consisting of six essay questions and requiring two letters of recommendation. Tilton received letters from Baker and from her lacrosse coach, a navy commander.
"The essay questions asked a lot about my personality and my ability levels for things like hiking, photography, kayaking and videography. I had to say whether or not I knew CPR and First Aid, if I could swim, and speak English," Tilton said.She spent most of her February vacation working on the application packet. Describing her experiences with other cultures was a large part of the application as well, according to Tilton’s mom, Sharon.
"NOAA was started as a result of 9/11. There were two marine biologists on the planes and, as a result, NOAA wanted to create a bond between the cultures," Sharon said. "It's one ocean; we all share it."
Tilton explained the goal of the program and noted that there were several sponsors working together, including National Geographic.
"We'll be learning about other cultures while studying marine life and eco-systems and we'll be getting the media supplies like cameras and video equipment to create video projects from National Geographic," she said prior to leaving for the program.
Tilton knew getting into the program was a long shot but was the only New England student chosen.
"There were 500 United States applicants last year and almost double that this year," she said.She says being an honors student in the aquaculture program at CACTC was likely a plus for her application, as well as her participation in SkillsUSA.
When the announcement day came in April, the Tilton family thought Emily had not been selected, when the day went on as usual without hearing anything from the California program representatives. When they finally got word, however, the family was thrilled and began preparing for Tilton’s trip almost immediately."I got a four-page packet about how to act and understand other cultures, like the Muslim culture," she said. "I had to read up on what is appropriate and not appropriate to do."
Sharon helped Tilton gather the supplies she needed for the trip, such as weather-resistant clothing and outdoor equipment. Emily describes some of the more unusual things she needed to bring in order to share her culture with others.
"I need to bring a local postage stamp, a wrapper from my favorite food, a picture and name of a famous person, an advertisement featuring my language, a local weather report showing typical weather here, and a coin native to my country," Tilton explained.
After returning home last week, Tilton is now required to fill out a follow-up packet summarizing her experiences and must be prepared to present to others about her trip, educating her peers about what she's learned.
In addition to being an honors aquaculture student at Cranston West and a select lacrosse player, Tilton also placed fourth in the Rhode Island All-state Music Festival this year, studies privately under the direction of flutist John Curran from the RI Philharmonic, and plays varsity girls hockey and volleyball.