All posts by Donna Smith

Grant to fund STEM internship

gopher tortoise

St. Petersburg College’s Bay Pines STEM Center was recently awarded a grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP). The Digital Challenge Micro Grant awards a little over $900 to fund a paid STEM-based internship opportunity for an SPC student to help monitor the threatened gopher tortoises recently released at the STEM Center.

“This grant will give us the opportunity to educate and engage students and community members via social media on how tortoises benefit the environment,” STEM Center Director Erica Moulton said.

The STEM internship was awarded to Leonard Sala, who is working on his degree in Environmental Science at SPC. Sala will track the tortoises in their new habitat via photo documentation, monitor and document any other species present in the burrows, and share status updates of the project through social media.

Sala is currently on track to graduate with an Associate Degree in Environmental Science at the end of the Summer 2020 term, and plans to continue on to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Science. A full-time student and primary caretaker of his seven-month-old daughter, Sala said the paid internship is helpful.

“The TBEP grant and internship with the STEM Center will provide financial means to help support my family and school expenses accrued along the way,” he said.

Sala says the internship will also will help him develop and expand his professional work experience within his career field.

“I’m excited about learning new competencies and skills that will come in handy when I’m getting started in the environmental science field,” Sala said. “Getting the opportunity to work up close with gopher tortoise conservation methods, techniques and procedures will provide tools I can take with me for a lifetime.”

Moulton says the internship provides a win-win situation. 

“The grant provides a funding opportunity for the student, who was unable to complete an internship elsewhere, and this data will really give us a chance to see how wildlife adjusts and compensates on its own during this unique time in history,” Moulton said. “It also gives the community of scientists information about the waif reintroduction process that might otherwise go undocumented.”

SPC Professor Named Microbial Sciences Council Member

Professor Shannon examining a microscope slide with a student.
microbial sciences

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) recently appointed St. Petersburg College Natural Science Professor Dr. Shannon McQuaig Ulrich a council member on ASM’s Council on Microbial Sciences.

The American Society for Microbiology is an organization made up of more than 30,000 scientists and health professionals who aim to promote and advance the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. About half of the international organization’s members are located outside the United States in 122 countries.

ASM’s new Council on Microbial Sciences (COMS) represents Society members and serves as the key connection between ASM’s members and leaders. Ulrich said she wants to help develop innovative strategies to move ASM forward.

“I would like to like to see progress in opportunities for minorities and increased support for both faculty and students interested in research at primarily-teaching institutions,” she said.

Ulrich finished her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Microbiology and Cell Science from the University of Florida, and her PhD in Biology with a concentration in Ecological and Environmental Microbiology from the University of South Florida. She began teaching at SPC in 2010.

After joining the ASM in 2000 as a freshman in college, Ulrich has served as a member and leader of the Florida branch, where she was president for two years, vice president for two years and secretary for two years. She said she is extremely honored to be elected for a three-year term to this national position.

“Attending the annual ASM meetings was one of the highlights of both my graduate and undergraduate careers,” she said. “I was able to share my research, receive vital feedback on my projects and network with microbiologists across the nation. I’m excited by the opportunity to work with the Council and ASM Board to broaden the outreach of ASM and encourage younger scientists to be involved in the Society.” 

SPC Professor Talks Toxic

toxic algae

Blooms of toxic algae in the oceans and fresh water bodies has become a serious concern for Floridians. St. Petersburg College Natural Sciences Professor Dr. Monica Lara appeared in the PBS documentary series Changing Seas to talk about the problems that tie into these blooms. The episode, titled Toxic Algal Blooms, aired on June 19 and is now available online. The documentary explores the causes and repercussions of these events.

After the BP oil spill, Lara, who teaches at the Clearwater Campus, and her students began monitoring fish and invertebrate populations and noticed a large decline after a red tide event. On this episode, Lara discussed the red tide events off our local coastal waters and what she and her students have observed.

“We were monitoring artificial reefs and natural ledges,” Lara said. “Using baseline data after a red tide years ago, we noticed a lot of invertebrates had died, so we started looking more closely. In some places, there was nothing – it was eerily quiet.”

Lara says toxic algae goes way beyond red tide events and occurs in different ways across the state.

“We have red tide, the east coast has a lot of brown algae, which is those piles of rotting seaweed you see on the beach,” Lara said.”That seaweed is actually from the Amazon, which means that something is killing it there and it is traveling here, illustrating what a global problem this is.”

Lara also served on the expert panel, answering questions from the public at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School, and served on a panel on Tuesday, June 18 at Nova Southeastern University in Dania Beach. She is on a mission to educate the public – not in a report that only a scientist could decipher, but in a way that everyone can grasp.

“Funding for research depends on state and federal government funding,” she said. “Change must be made to prevent the bacterias that create the algae. It’s a global problem; a climate change problem; a pollution problem. Once people are informed, they can be activists and vote for people who will help bring change.”

Watch the full episode here.

Biology Open House Event Spotlights Careers

Students at lab bench

The job outlook for people with degrees in biology and biotechnology is on the rise, and St. Petersburg College will be sharing the opportunities those degrees offer at our upcoming Biology Open House.

The open house event will be held at the college’s Clearwater Campus, at 2465 Drew Street, Clearwater, FL 33765, in room ES 127 on Wednesday, Oct. 18, from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m.

St. Petersburg College’s associate degree in Biotechnology Laboratory Technology will give you the hands-on skills and experience you need to join one of the fastest growing industries in the nation -and work to make the world a better place. Biological Technicians assist biological and medical scientists in laboratories by operating and maintaining laboratory instruments, conducting and observing experiments and recording results in detail.

“The biotechnology program at St. Petersburg College was specifically tailored and designed from the very beginning so that students get the exact skills that employees want. I know that if I hire graduates of SPC’s program, they will be able to perform in a lab and help me be productive,” said Michael Shamblott, associate professor at the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine.

Our bachelor’s degree in Biology will get you ready for a career in health care, education, conservation, research or continued graduate work in medical, dental or veterinary school. With a degree in biology, you can work in a variety of careers in the biological sciences, like health care, education, conservation and research, or pursue graduate degrees such as a Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy, or study medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, or pharmacy.

At the Biology Open House you can: 

  • Learn about the associate’s degree in  biotechnology laboratory technology AND our bachelor’s degree in biology
  • Ask questions about the biology field and related careers
  • Learn more how you can major in your love for science
  • Speak with our faculty and dean
  • Learn about internship opportunities
  • Tour the labs
  • Apply for admission

Seating is limited, so please RSVP online at: Or contact Tracy Garrett at 727-341-3172.

Solar Eclipse Events Draw Crowds

solar eclipse

Comments like “Holy cow!” “Fantastically amazing!” and “Whoa!!” were the indicators that The St. Petersburg College Planetarium’s solar eclipse event on August 21 at the Gibbs campus was a blazing success. More than 2,000 people of all ages showed up to enjoy the free eclipse glasses, look through the college’s high-powered telescope and use their own homemade viewing devices.

Jennifer Jackson of St. Petersburg checked her kids out of school to attend the event after prepping them with some background science about a solar eclipse.

“I thought it would be cool for the kids to see it with a group of people,” Jackson said. “They loved it and thought it was really cool. We’d talked about it and shown them pictures, but I don’t think anything really prepares you for actually seeing it happen.”

In today’s world, where opinions are so hugely divided, the event brought crowds of people from all walks of life together to share an awe-inspiring experience.

“It was a really positive vibe,” Jackson said. “Everyone was friendly and people were sharing glasses and viewing boxes.”

Local educator John Stewart agreed in an interview with WTPS News.

“It really puts things in perspective,” Stewart told WTSP News. “You’ve got your little worries and concerns, and they’re important, but there’s a bigger picture here, and something like this reminds you of it.”

Planetarium Director Dr. Craig Joseph, who also gave three 30-minute lectures on the eclipse prior to the event, estimated that around 2500 people turned up for the event.

“We had about 850 eclipse glasses and viewers in total, and they were gone within an hour,” Joseph said. “And even with the long lines, I’m pretty sure everybody got a view through a telescope. A lot of people enjoyed watching it on the TV monitor, too.”

SPC’s Tarpon Springs Campus also offered viewing opportunities for the North County community, with their event providing viewers and telescopes. Professor Antonio Paris was there to discuss the science behind the solar eclipse.

“The event was awesome,” Paris said.  “We had close to 300 guests, including many children. I had the opportunity to demonstrate how eclipses work and, more importantly, how children – as well as adults – could build their own eclipse-viewing tools from scratch.”

Paris said it was a great opportunity for guests to interact with SPC faculty and staff.

“This was a once in a life time event for all of us,” Paris said. “So I was very excited to have participated in it with my SPC family.”

Check out our gallery of photos on Facebook. 

Solar Eclipse 2017

Posted by St. Petersburg College on Monday, August 21, 2017

Collaboration Explores Algae In Fuel Production

algae in fuel production

The need for renewable and carbon neutral energy sources has produced an interesting solution: the use of algae in fuel production, which also provides opportunities for learning and collaboration among St. Petersburg College, students, faculty, and the community.

SPC is happy to announce a collaboration with Culturing Solutions to provide a space for an outside laboratory to demonstrate Hybrid Algae Production technology. Culturing Solutions has been working on algae conversion to biofuels since 2008 and has had amazing breakthroughs in the past few years.

A pilot project will commence in August 2017 that will explore the efficiency of Culturing Solutions, Inc. Hybrid Photobioreactor technology that produces biomass. The biomass will be fed to anaerobic bacteria to produce Renewable Natural Gas that can be used in Combined Cycle Turbine generators to produce electricity. As an added benefit, this process captures carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas.

Culturing Solutions CEO Dean Tsoupeis says the possibilities for algae, which can be produced on waste streams, like agricultural and municipal waste, is exciting.

“It is my hope that this project can show that it is possible to produce 30 percent of our electricity using algae,” he said.

St. Petersburg College’s collaboration with Culturing Solutions will provide a learning opportunity for students that enriches the environmental science curriculum for the areas of Natural Sciences and Engineering. SPC students and faculty will participate in the production and harvesting of the algae.

Seminole Innovation Lab Manager and Librarian Chad Mairn says the collaboration is important.

“Students will be able to gain real-world research opportunities and work on something that could potentially make the world a better place,” he said.

Culturing Solutions’ production of biomass at St. Petersburg College allows for participation in the George Barley Water Prize, which is a competition of technologies that remediate and clean up the Everglades. If Culturing Solutions wins the prize, then a donation to create a student scholarship will be offered to the college.

Seminole Campus Provost Mark Strickland is excited about the long reach of the project.

“The project doesn’t end when the research is complete at SPC,” Strickland said. “Our faculty, staff, and students will be able to learn from this experience and share the knowledge they gain with others, and a new set of individuals will be armed with important information going forward to make a positive impact in the world of science.”

The public is invited to check out the Hybrid Photobioreactor at St. Petersburg College’s Seminole Campus, 9200 113th Street. You can also see project updates at the Science and Mathematics blog.


SPC Planetarium to Host Eclipse Viewing

Eclipse Viewing

On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, millions of Americans will witness one of the grandest spectacles in Nature: a total eclipse of the sun. As the moon passes directly in front of the sun, day will turn to night along a narrow swath of the country, beginning in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. In the Tampa Bay area, the sun will be about 80 percent eclipsed by the moon.

Safe eclipse viewing offered at SPC

The St. Petersburg College Planetarium will host an eclipse viewing (weather permitting) between 1:15 – 4 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 21. Eclipse glasses and telescopes with solar filters will be available in the “quad” area of the St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus, east of the Natural Science building, near the south entrance of the West St. Petersburg Library. The science building at the campus is accessible from 69th St. at 5th Ave N. Parking for the library is accessible from 67th St. at 9th Ave N.

Parking for eclipse viewing at SP/G

Parking at SP/G is available adjacent to Eagle Lake, off 66th St. North; in front of the campus buildings along 5th Ave. North; and on both sides of 69th St. at 5th Avenue. The largest parking area, and probably the easiest place to find a parking space, is the lot west of 69th Street. Visitors can park in any unmarked spaces but not in spaces reserved for faculty or staff. Use this link to download a map of the campus showing parking and the event’s location.

The Tarpon Springs Campus also will host The Great American Eclipse event behind the library.

Events at both campuses are open to the public. See these tips for safely viewing the eclipse from any location.

Learn about the eclipse viewing from celestial St. Petersburg College expert

To prepare for and share insights about the upcoming eclipse, Planetarium Director Dr. Craig Joseph will also host several half-hour lectures on eclipses on Friday, Aug. 18. These FREE lectures are at:

  • 7 p.m., 7:40 p.m., and 8:20 p.m.
  • Room 232, Natural Science building
  • St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus Planetarium
  • Eclipse glasses will not be distributed at the lectures

The eclipse begins at 1:17 p.m. EDT, when the moon first touches the sun’s disk. Over the next hour and a half, more and more of the sun will be covered by the moon, with mid-eclipse occurring at 2:49 p.m. At that time, 84 percent of the sun will be blocked by the moon. The eclipse will end at 4:13 p.m.

According to NASA’s Total Eclipse website, the last time most Americans experienced a total solar eclipse was 1991. NASA estimates that 500 million people will be able to observe the August eclipse event, in partial or total form: 391 million in the U.S., 35 million in Canada, and 119 million in Mexico (plus Central America and parts of South America and northwestern Europe) .

Because only a portion of the sun will be covered, this unique event can be viewed, but only if special precautions are taken to reduce the sun’s brilliance to safe levels. The human retina is very sensitive to light, and the sun’s surface is so bright that looking directly at it, even for a few seconds, can damage retinal cells, perhaps permanently. Eclipse viewers will be available at the Planetarium event.

For additional information, contact the SPC planetarium at 341-4320.

SPC offers several classes and degrees in science, including a bachelor’s degree in biology, an associate in science degree in biotechnology laboratory technology and A.A. transfer plans to the University of South Florida.

Scuba Club learns about reef restoration #spcinspires

Photo of scuba diver on Florida Keys dive trip

On Friday June 10, St. Petersburg College’s Underwater Research Society, more succinctly called “Scuba Club,” departed the Clearwater campus in a caravan of two college vans and four cars for the six-hour drive to Key Largo for a three-day trip to learn about coral reefs.

On Saturday morning, the 30 students, along with two instructors, boarded a dive boat and headed out from John Pennekamp State Park to dive two coral reefs in the park. “The water was clear and the divers got to see large rays, several small sharks, and a host of colorful fish and coral,” Oceanography Professor Heyward Mathews said.

Later that day, the group toured Coral Restoration Foundation, a coral restoration lab on Key Largo, where they learned about the group’s efforts to replenish coral reefs by taking small broken pieces of corals and propagating them out in the shallow waters. “They hang these small pieces of hard corals on a PVC Christmas Tree until they are up to the right size, then local divers take them out and use a marine epoxy that will set underwater to hold the new coral to the limestone foundation of the reef” Mathews said. “This is a really innovative way to reverse the world wide loss of living corals resulting from sea level rise and the slow warming of the world ocean.”

Example of a coral tree
Example of a coral tree

Before heading home on Sunday, the group set off on two dives: one at the most famous dive spot in the county, the Christ Statue, and another at a shallow reef called the Minnow Cave. “Everyone was a bit tired but totally thrilled about the experience of diving on living coral reefs,” Mathews said.

The students left contemplating returning in the fall to help with the coral planting. “No PowerPoint presentation can really take the place of seeing these fantastic marine communities first hand,” Mathews said.