MeiLin Precourt examines an otilith in a lab, an inner ear bone in vertabrates (including humans) that detects linear acceleration. (Provided)

Claremont student earns prestigious science mentorship

MeiLin Precourt the only Canadian in fisheries biology program

A Claremont Secondary School student, MeiLin Precourt, has been chosen as one of only 26 students from across Canada and the United States to participate in the prestigious Hutton Junior Fisheries Biology Program.

The program is an innovative education program sponsored by the American Fisheries Society (AFS) designed to stimulate interest in careers in fisheries science and management among groups underrepresented in the fisheries professions, including minorities and women. Application to the program is open to all rising 11th through graduating senior high school students regardless of race, creed, or gender. Because the program seeks to increase diversity within the fisheries professions, qualified women and minority applicants are strongly encouraged to apply. Each student chosen for the program is awarded a $4,000 scholarship and is matched with a professional mentor for a summer-long, hands-on experience in fisheries science. Precourt was the only Canadian high schooler selected.

“I actually had never heard about the Hutton project until my biology teacher told me about it, just 72 hours before the application deadline,” explained Precourt.

“I’ve always been interested in biology so this work is perfect for me and I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”

Precourt is working with her mentor, Francis Juanes, a fisheries ecologist from the biology department at the University of Victoria. He has worked in the field collecting invertebrates and their fish predators to understand how microplastics are accumulating in marine organisms and transferring up the food chain.

“When we bring in a fellow they generally have a project they focus on, but we try to give them experience in a lot of areas to give them a better overview of the work that’s possible in the field,” said Juanes.

Juanes is engaged in a broader study to study the diet of large salmon, particularly Chinook or Coho, which he said is valuable because their winter diets are largely unknown. Precourt herself will analyze stomach contents of Chinook and Coho salmon caught by local anglers to understand how the salmon diet changes seasonally in southern British Columbia. Herring are an important food source for Chinook and Coho salmon, so by analyzing their remains within a salmon’s stomach (specifically the otiliths, or ear bones that detect linear acceleration), scientists can learn more about the size and origins of the herring, and see how the salmon and herring affect each other in the environment.

In the two-month program, Precourt will also collect samples in the field in order to provide a variety of experiences beyond lab work.

“MeiLin has displayed incredible attention to detail and patience in her approach to the work in the lab, but has also shown a real flair for her work in the field.”

As evidenced by the final reports of students and mentors who have participated in the Hutton Program, the students benefit substantially from their summer mentoring experience.

For most students, the Hutton Program is their first exposure to a professional work setting where they learn what qualities are necessary to be successful in that environment and the importance of being able to function well as part of a team.

The students also gain an awareness of conservation issues and the importance of healthy aquatic systems; participate in projects that benefit habitat restoration, protection, and management; and gain an understanding of what is involved in being a fisheries biologist and of the career opportunities available in the field.

“This experience has really inspired me,” said Precourt.

“I’ll be graduating a year early and plan to take a year to travel, but when I get back I’m seriously looking at continuing my education in the field of oceanography.”

In Hutton’s 13th year, AFS received 150 student applications from across the United States and Canada, and selected 26 applicants to receive scholarships and mentorships. Of the exceptional students chosen for the Hutton this summer, nearly two-thirds are minorities, and over half are females.

This summer, Hutton Scholars will be working with their mentors in British Columbia, Canada and 14 states.

These include California, Idaho, Texas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Florida, Hawaii, West Virginia as well as Puerto Rico.

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