- Mark Tohulka
- Teacher, Mast Academy
Growing up in Rural Wisconsin, I had ample opportunities to view nature in my own back yard, from a den of foxes playing at sunset to animal tracks observed after a new snowfall. I majored in Biology at Lawrence University, doing a summer internship at the Aldo Leopold Nature Reserve. Leopold’s work in conservation biology and ethics, particularly “A Sand County Almanac,” had a strong influence on me, and I moved from a career aimed at research to one focused on education, moving to Miami-Dade County in 1985 to begin my teaching career. For several years, I straddled the realms of research and education, earning an MS in Biology from Florida International University in 1992 by studying pygmy rattlesnakes, then serving in summer research positions at the Inhalation Toxicology Research Institute in New Mexico, the University of Miami’s Medical School, and the University of Miami’s Marine Campus, the Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Each of these research experiences gave me a myriad of experiences and anecdotes to share with my science students and enrich my classes.
As the years progressed, my interests focused on marine sciences, and I began teaching Marine Biology and Advance Placement Environmental Science at Miami’s MAST Academy, a public magnet high school with a marine focus. Summer institutes and graduate courses in marine biology helped strengthen my understanding of the marine realm. In 1995, I participated in the Scott Carpenter Man in the Sea Program in Key Largo, Florida, where I had the opportunity to spend 24 hours in an undersea habitat, pilot a small submersible, and dive from a diving bell. The staff members in this program had a profound effect on my life and interests, and I owe them deeply for it. Later hired as a director of the program, I learned more about saturation diving and first visited the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory and the Navy’s Experimental Diving Unit. This lead to a summer working for NASA at Kennedy Space Center writing curriculum for Scott Carpenter Station, an undersea laboratory designed for NASA outreach. I have had tremendous satisfaction at seeing former students go on to study marine biology abroad, study environmental engineering, or go into environmental law. Recently my students have become involved in the South Florida Student Shark Project, which places high school students on the water with University of Miami Researcher to tag sharks, take tissue samples for DNA and mercury analysis, and record environmental data. This project is especially interesting to my five year old daughter Catie, who enjoys science and nature as much as her father, although her mother, Maria, gets nervous at the thought of my handling live sharks. The years of teaching have brought some nice awards and recognition, and the opportunity to help develop the textbook, Life on an Ocean Planet, but the one thing in my career that I had always hoped for was a chance to serve as an aquanaut for a mission of the Aquarius. Now, thirteen years later, I have the opportunity to fulfill that dream, and share the experience with classrooms worldwide via the Internet.