All posts by Cathi Carr

Women Shine at STEM Symposium

Panelists Nicole Stott, Laura Spence and Lindsay Milbourne address the Women2STEM Symposium Oct. 16 at SPC's Clearwater Campus.

Hands popped up immediately, as excitement bubbled over to ask an astronaut, meteorologist or educator a question.

“How do you sleep in space? Is it fun to be on TV? How do I get involved if I’m not an educator?”

For the dozens of budding scientists, mathematicians, engineers and teachers in the audience, the SPC Women2STEM Symposium gave attendees a chance to see their heroes up close. Guest speakers included artist and former astronaut Nicole Stott, television meteorologist Lindsay Milbourne and Pinellas County Schools K-12 STEM Specialist Laura Spence.

“I love that SPC hosts events like this,” said student Ronelia Bailey, who travels from Bradenton to attend SPC. “I wouldn’t get this opportunity anywhere else.”

Unhidden Figures

SPC Mathematics Chair Joy Moore
SPC Mathematics Chair Joy Moore

The symposium drew all ages to SPC’s Clearwater Campus and showcased the accomplishments of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. To kick things off, SPC Mathematics Chair Joy Moore introduced herself as an ‘Unhidden Figure’ in reference to the movie “Hidden Figures” and the book it was based on. Both the book and the movie pay homage to three pioneering African-American women in the space program whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space.

“Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson blazed a trail that allows me to be an ‘Unhidden Figure’ today,” Moore said. “I want to thank them for paving the way for me and others and inspiring me.”

Moore re-appeared on stage after the panelists spoke and delivered a stirring rendition of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.”

Finding Inspiration that Creates Opportunity

Each panelist said they were first inspired and encouraged by their parents, and later by those they looked up to.

Artist and former astronaut Nicole Stott takes a selfie with Jordan "Buggy" Ulrich at the Women2STEM Symposium.
Artist and former astronaut Nicole Stott takes a selfie with Jordan “Buggy” Ulrich, the youngest to attend SPC’s Women2STEM Symposium.

“I wasn’t sure I could do it, but my mentors encouraged me to apply to the astronaut program,” said Stott, an SPC alumna and veteran astronaut with two spaceflights and 104 days living and working in space on both the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS). “Most of an astronaut’s job is not in space, but what I was already doing as an engineer. They had the confidence in me when I didn’t necessarily have it in myself.”

During her 28-year career with NASA, Stott performed one spacewalk, was the first person to fly the robotic arm to capture the free flying HTV cargo vehicle, the first person to paint and Tweetup from space in 2009, she was the last crew member to fly to and from their ISS mission on a Space Shuttle, and she was a member of the crew of the final flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

“Find what inspires you and that will create opportunity,” she said.

Inspiration for educator Spence was sparked in middle school when her science teacher unveiled a pig stomach to the class.

“I was fascinated,” said Spence, who has developed hundreds of after-school STEM academies that reach more than 5,000 students in Pinellas County Schools. “I knew right then that I wanted to teach. My goal is to get kids who may not think they’re good at something to be able to do it.”

Facing Challenges in the STEM Fields

But as women in careers traditionally populated by men, the panelists also faced their share of challenges.

As a girl, Laura Spence loved reading to her pets.
As a girl, Laura Spence loved reading to her pets.

As a high schooler, Spence struggled in a math class but was proud of her hard work.

“When my teacher called my grade of “C” I was happy, but his response was ‘That’s good enough for you,’ ” Spence said. “That’s not the way you talk to or inspire your students. I learned to turn my challenges and barriers into successes.”

Milbourne, a Florida State University meteorology graduate who minored in math, has been at FOX 13 since 2012, loves being on television for its daily variety and unpredictable nature.

“There are still a lot more males than females in broadcast meteorology,” said. “A lot of times you’re being judged for what you wear when you don’t hear your male colleagues getting the same criticism.”

Milbourne noted that meteorologists can work for TV and radio stations, consulting businesses, educational facilities and several branches of the federal government including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. military or NASA.

See It, Be It

“I’m really thankful to SPC for hosting this event, where we can thoughtfully share our stories and inspire others,” Stott said. “Girls need to see women doing things – doing things they didn’t think they could. It’s a ‘see it, be it’ kind of thing. Thank you for letting us be here and be an example. This is so important.”

So … about sleeping in space.

“Well, you have to use a sleeping bag, so you start there. Then you have to tether yourself to something so you don’t float away,” Stott said to a chuckle from the crowd. “I always chose the ceiling because where else can you sleep on the ceiling except in space?”

New Science and Engineering Club forms

Science and Engineering club members

On Thursday, Sept. 24, about 30 students and faculty attended the first seminar of the newly formed Science and Engineering Club on the St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus. The new club held its first meeting Sept. 3. The club will meet on the first and third Thursdays every month from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in SC-234.

SPC Microbiology Professor Ray Menard, spoke on:

  • An Investigation of the Antimicrobial Properties of Spices
  • Antibiotic-Producing Bacteria

The club plans to have 2-3 science and engineering seminar speakers during fall and spring terms.

Pictured above (from left) are Professor John Vaughan, co-advisor of Science and Engineering Club; Kaitlynn Galloway, Club Vice President; Dr. Ray Menard, Speaker; Piero Rodriguez, SPC student; Allison DiVito, Club President. Not pictured: Co-advisor – Ann Marie Eligon.

Science and Engineering Club Officers

  • Allison DiVito, President
  • Kaitlynn Galloway, Vice President
  • Malachi Corrao – Secretary
  • Kelsey Johnson – Treasurer

SGA Representatives

  • Dwaine Burton
  • Joshua Hoppe
  • Anabella Hoppe


  • Henderson Rhoads (primary interested in geology-based activities)
  • Laura Luc
  • Ganna Voytseshko

SPC students help with invasive lionfish control

By Dr. Heyward Mathews & Dr. Monica Lara

On Sept. 12-13, Reef Monitoring Inc., held its second annual Lionfish Safari to combat the population explosion of the invasive lionfish into our local Gulf waters. From a few of this Pacific species of reef fish that were released into Florida waters in the late 1980s, their numbers have grown to the point where they are now a serious threat to our local reef fish species.

lionfish processing
SPC students and alumni help form an assembly line to process and record the length and weight of every lionfish that was turned in. This year, a total of 884 lionfish from 12 different boats were caught during foul sea conditions. The same data was gathered at last year’s event, when 474 lionfish were recorded. (Photo courtesy of Blue Water Life.)

Lionfish have spines that are very painful to the touch and are not native to our waters. They have no known natural predators. To make matters worse, they can lay over 4,000 eggs a week. The eggs are enclosed in a jelly mass that is toxic, so nothing eats their eggs.

The eggs float in a jelly mass for three weeks, then drop down to the bottom, and quickly grow to a size where they can consume 15 to 20 small snapper, grouper or other small reef fish in a single day! Lionfish are not consistently caught on hook and line. Traps are either not effective or they produce too much by-catch, so the only way to control them at this point is to have divers spear them.

This year’s lionfish round up, sponsored by Reef Monitoring, was the largest so far. Divers brought in 884 lionfish, twice the number removed last year. The divers were in the Gulf of Mexico all day Saturday and brought their iced down lionfish to the Guy Harvey Outpost on St. Petersburg Beach for weigh in starting at 9:30 Sunday morning.

Our SPC marine biology research team arrived at 9 a.m. Sunday to begin collecting scientific data on the fish caught. Recent SPC graduate Brittany Barber, who now works for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, led the team. The research team of SPC students and alumni included Alisha Phillips, Carly Burgess, Riccardo Carrelli, Kirstin Shade, Jody Hartlove and Michelle Phillips.

Chefs from the Guy Harvey Outpost, a TradeWinds Beach Resort, prepare and and serve up a tasty helping of lionfish.
Chefs from the Guy Harvey Outpost, a TradeWinds Beach Resort, prepare and serve up a tasty helping of lionfish. (Photo courtesy of Blue Water Life.)

After the data from every fish was recorded, they were filleted and prepared by chefs from the Guy Harvey Outpost. This was to show how tasty these fish are and to promote and develop a demand for lionfish in local restaurants. The goal is to introduce the public to this fish as a food source, which could create a demand for lionfish in the commercial fishery industry. Lionfish would then be harvested on a regular basis.

Representatives from Florida Sea Grant attended the event to talk about lionfish research that has been performed and what is currently being studied about them. In addition, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission representatives spoke about different programs that are either developing or are already in place to encourage recreational divers to assist in harvesting lionfish. Vendors attending the event promoted diving safety, how to harvest and handle lionfish safely, sun protection and products that help remedy the after affects of a lionfish sting.

The event was organized in part by Cory Trier, a board member of Reef Monitoring Inc., and SPC bachelor’s degree student majoring in biology. Trier promoted the event by raising awareness of the prevalence of lionfish in our local waters. The goal of the event was to better inform the public about all aspects of lionfish, from their invasiveness and destruction of our nurseries and local reefs to the promotion of lionfish as a food source.

Trier promoted the event with local dive shops, dive clubs, TradeWinds Island Resorts and the Tampa Bay area public. More than $2,200 in cash prizes were awarded to the divers who brought in the lionfish and hundreds of donated items were raffled off to event attendees.

During the 2015 Lionfish Safari, twice the number of lionfish were removed over last year’s event and diver participation increased significantly, to 159 registered divers. The larger number of fish collected and the increase in their overall size is an indication that the problem in the Gulf is continuing to get worse.

Future events include , the “State of the Reefs III” Symposium on April 15 at the Clearwater Campus Fine Arts Auditorium. SPC marine biology students will present their results from their ongoing research projects. If you have any students working on marine projects and want them to present their work, please submit an abstract to Dr. Monica Lara by March 15.

Science students participate in Clearwater Centennial Parade

Photo of Science Adventures club members on float

Members of the Science Adventures Club on the Clearwater Campus rode atop the float they built to celebrate marine science and the Clearwater Campus’ 50th anniversary during the Clearwater Centennial Parade May 30.

With funding help from Student Services, the float showcased the research
that science students have been doing for the last few years out in the Gulf, including juvenile fish studies, mangrove grouper habitat studies, Gulf sediment research and the scuba program.

“The parade turned out to be a much bigger deal than I had expected,” said scuba and oceanography instructor Heyward Mathews, who helped construct the float. “There were so many floats and groups marching that we spent two hours in line
and then at 6:30, when we started down Drew Street, it took us two hours to go
the 2 ½ miles to Coachman Park. The SPC float was very well received by the

“One lady along the route called out that she went to SPC and now had
her Ph.D. Another gentleman commented when he saw the old Ford pickup
that Dr. Vittetoe and his wife were riding in ahead of us, that he was at SPC when
that truck was still new. Then we had a bunch of middle-school-age kids that
began chanting , ‘SPC, SPC, SPC,’ as we passed.  We also saw a few young couples
with small kids who were former students.

The five marine biology students who rode on the float had a ball, and the scientific
equipment we had on the float made a good statement about the research our
students are doing out in the Gulf and in the mangroves,” Mathews said.

“This was my first parade since my middle school band days in 1955, but it was
fun and it brought home what an impact St. Petersburg College has had on
our community!”

Students Shannon Senekossoff and Cory Trier assist Dr. Mathews with the float.