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Emily Clark took to her summer internship at Chicago's John G. Shedd Aquarium like a fish to water.
Actually, one of her more memorable moments this summer involved a friendly encounter with a scaly native of the Bahamas, where Clark spent a week as part of the program.
"I learned about the Spanish Hogfish…it's really, really pretty. It became my favorite. And while we were in the Bahamas I actually saw it on a reef. It wasn't behind glass or anything; it was right there," Clark, 17, enthusiastically recalled. "It was a very amazing moment, seeing it in its natural habitat."
Clark, who'll be a senior this fall at Oak Park and River Forest High School, has loved the oceans and sea life since childhood. She remembers riding on her grandfather's boat as a child.
"I grew up on the water," Clark said. "That kind of contributed to my interest a bit."
She was accepted this summer into the Shedd Aquarium's High School Marine Biology program. The three-week program included a week spent studying marine life in the Bahamas. Clark and 10 other Chicago-area students spent the week on the Shedd's large research vessel. They designed their research experiments and carried them out in the Bahamas. They're wrapping up the summer program analyzing their findings.
Clark's work study job last spring was at the Shedd. A family friend who participated in the marine biology program told Clark about it. She participated this summer with 20 other students, broken into two groups of 10.
The Bahamas trip was harrowing beyond the sea life discoveries. The three-hour trip from Miami to the Island of Bimini included a few 3-foot waves, which had some of her classmates feeling a little "fishy," so to speak. Though an ocean veteran herself, the waves caused a few sleepless moments even for Clark. But once in the Bahamas, it was smooth sailing for the students.
It was Clark's first time in the Caribbean, but she's had other "wow moments" with sea life prior to the Bahamas trip. She recalled a trip to the Galapagos Islands when she was around 12, when a pretty big manta ray swam from underneath her while deepwater snorkeling. That moment also contributed to her love of the oceans.
"I felt like I was part of that environment; I didn't feel like an intruder," Clark said.
The OPRF teen is a biology honors student, though the high school has no marine biology curriculum, Clark noted. She was also a member of the school's environmental club. Clark notes that marine biology isn't something a lot of teens are interested in. But she's been able to join a few Facebook groups of fellow sea lovers. And she plans to study marine biology in college.
But this summer's internship at the Shedd, she adds, was like nothing else she's experienced.
"I really found a sense of purpose that I hadn't really experienced in school—it was really profound," Clark said.