2013-12-27 / Community

Experience is core goal for science center

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer


South Portland resident Megan McCuller dreams of making science more accessible to the public through the Maine Citizen Marine Science Center, a laboratory in the Holly Street Industrial Park that will be open to citizen scientists, youth groups and tourists looking to learn more about the rocky coast of Maine. (Michael Kelley photo) South Portland resident Megan McCuller dreams of making science more accessible to the public through the Maine Citizen Marine Science Center, a laboratory in the Holly Street Industrial Park that will be open to citizen scientists, youth groups and tourists looking to learn more about the rocky coast of Maine. (Michael Kelley photo) South Portland resident Megan McCuller is setting out to make science-based learning more accessible for Maine’s youngest residents.

In May McCuller is hoping to open the Maine Citizens Marine Science Center in Holly Street Industrial Park.

The space, which is set to receive a facelift, will offer members of the public a place to do independent research and be a place where kids can learn to love science.

One of her hopes with the Maine Citizens Marine Science Center is that schools will see it as a resource in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum and as a way for students to get hands-on learning experiences.

The Gulf of Maine Resource Institute in Portland offers opportunities for students to come in and do research projects, but those projects, McCuller said, are “more computer based.”

“I want to take it one step further by bringing actual live animals in and having kids conduct their own research and collect their own data rather than relying on data someone else collected.”

McCuller, who earned a bachelors degree in marine ecology from Texas A&M University in Galveston, and a masters degree in zoology at the University of New Hampshire, said such an approach will give students a much fuller experience.

“If you do the work for yourself, you feel a deeper relationship (with the experiment) and get a better understanding,” McCuller said.

The goal, she said, is to encourage and offer handson scientific experience from an early age.

“A lot of kids are disenchanted with science because early on, you are listening to lectures and seeing demonstrations. You are not really getting a hands-on experience,” McCuller said.

Maine Citizens Marine Science Center, which has a dozen laboratory spaces, is in the perfect location, she said, because it is in close proximity to Pine Point Beach and the rocky Maine coast, as well as Scarborough Marsh and the Scarborough River Wildlife Sanctuary.

Encouraging young science learners is but one of the focuses McCuller has for her business. She also wants to rent laboratory space to citizen scientists who are working on independent research projects and offer marine ecology tours of the Maine coastline.

Specific sites for the tours have not been determined, but McCuller said she is interested in Fort Williams Park and Robinson Woods in Cape Elizabeth.

“The idea is to get visitors interested in the Gulf of Maine. There are whale watches, lighthouse tours and sea kayak tours, but as far as I know — and I have done quite a bit of research — there is no place where people can go out and take a tour of the rocky coast,” McCuller said. “It’s a unique thing.”

McCuller said she is also interested in offering workshops on things like how to do research, how to write a lab report and scientific illustration.

The dream McCuller has for the Maine Citizens Marine Science Center, a low-profit limited liability company, comes with a cost.

Much of that cost is for equipment, such as portable microscopes that can magnify and take pictures of things found in the field.

Karen Martin, executive director of the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation, is helping McCuller make her dream a reality by assisting her with marketing and fundraising and connecting with resources in the region and community.

“Talking with the right people, that’s half the battle in starting up a new business,” Martin said.

Martin said she is impressed with what McCuller is attempting to do in getting citizen scientists and students interested in the scientific process.

“She wants to make sure anyone can do a science project, under the right circumstances, and really contribute to the knowledge of the human race,” Martin said.

“I think it is a brilliant idea and I am so excited she is locating it in Scarborough,” Martin added.

McCuller is busy these days trying to shore up funding for lab equipment and other operating costs. She has started a crowd sourcing campaign online through the website Start Good Things (http://startsomegood.com/ Venture/ maine_ citizen_ marine_ science_ center), and has entered business plan competitions, applied for grants and a paid fellowship with Echoing Green, a global nonprofit that funds ideas for social change.

Once funding is in place, McCuller can begin to turn her focus onto transforming the lab from a white-walled, white-tabled space to a space complete with murals of Maine coastal scenes and saltwater aquariums so scientists can perform controlled experiments in the lab and natural experiments out in the field.

“I am excited and really look forward to starting,” McCuller said.

For more information about the Maine Citizen Marine Science Center email admin@mecmsc.org or 619-2470.

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