Parkland teacher explores Gulf as part of STEM initiative

As students poured out of school to begin summer break, Tammy Orilio, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, was busy working in a classroom of a far different type.

Orilio was one of 28 educators selected to participate in Dr. Robert Ballard’s 2015 Ocean Exploration Trust. As a Science Communication Fellow, she joined others aboard the E/V Nautilus to explore deep-sea biology, geology and archaeology in the Gulf of Mexico — all part of the Trust’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) initiative.

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Various crews performed explorations over a four-month span, and Orilio’s leg of the journey was a three-week journey in May into the Gulf of Mexico. Future explorations include The Galapagos Islands and the Eastern Pacific Ocean, moving up the west coast of the United States to British Columbia, Canada.

From a four-walled classroom to a deep-sea classroom, the educator was able to communicate with students at Stoneman Douglas. “By logging on to, students were able to see daily updates, and I could speak to them, via live feeds,” she said.

The website, which will close in late September or early October, allows for “real-time” exploration, so educators can bring expedition experiences back into their own classrooms, organizations and communities in the form of engaging lesson plans and activities that are centered around their time at sea aboard Nautilus.

“The Nautilus has great satellite communication ability, so we were able to do live reports from ship to shore,” commented Orilio. “While we were answering questions live, the production team at the University of Rhode Island pulled up video of what we were exploring.”

Orilio grew up in upstate New York, but took many trips to Florida. “Being around the ocean influenced me a lot,” she said. “Since the seventh grade, I developed a love for the sea, and I always wanted to do something in marine biology, so this expedition was a perfect fit.”

The expedition included the use of unmanned, submersible Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs), namely Argus and Hercules, which were controlled by pilots from the ship. “My first memorable impression was seeing how the ROVs were prepped and lowered into the water,” said Orilio. “The amount of teamwork needed involved pilots, deck hands and control-room personnel, plus we had onboard physicists, engineers, mechanics and scientists. It was truly a collaborative effort.”

The teacher was chosen to participate in the exploration from a highly competitive pool of applicants. The application process involved questions about the STEM-related practices she uses in the classroom, and after a video interview, she was selected. “I’ve always tried to integrate science and technology in my classroom,” she said. “I always emphasize to my students that the ocean is a world unto itself. We know more about Mars and the Moon than we do about the deep sea.”

Selected educators (and 26 selected students) hailed from universities, science centers, aquaria and nonprofit organizations in 25 states and five countries. “I am extremely proud to have been chosen to participate, because as a marine science teacher, I’m always looking for new ways to keep my students abreast of current ocean research,” said Orilio. “I love the idea of using telepresence to communicate with the public (via, so we can share our research.”

In May, Orilio was in the Gulf of Mexico. In July, she is in Alaska working as a deck hand on a tour boat. In September, she will be back in the a four-walled classroom with memories of the summer that was.

Copyright © 2015, Sun Sentinel

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