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USM’s Marine Education Center Offers All Ages Outdoor Coastal Experiences of a Lifetime

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 02:54pm | By: Gabriela Shinskie


Surrounded by breathtaking outdoor trails, walkways and the Davis Bayou in Ocean Springs, Miss, The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Marine Education Center (MEC) offers the coastal community opportunities to learn more about the Mississippi Gulf Coast and its inhabitants. The facility’s goal is to immerse guests in the coast’s beauty, share an understanding of its ecology, and remind them of ways they are connected to the ocean, wherever they live.

Dr. Jessie Kastler, Director of the MEC, takes pride in the resources the center provides to all ages. She said the experiential education programs are designed to be student-active, place-based, responsive, and inclusive.

“We specialize in engaging students in active science learning, going into field settings to collect data to understand coastal habitats,” said Kastler.

A Picturesque View Perfect for Field Trips

Outside Landscape


The vision for the MEC has been to keep the natural landscape intact to maintain the integrity of the surrounding trees and bayou. The buildings were designed to fit the landscape, to make them as hazard resilient and environmentally sustainable as possible, while minimizing impact to the surrounding areas. Visitors can see the view is ideal for a variety of programs that focus on coastal research while also offering educational resources for every age group.

Educators can engage classes in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related activities, providing students with indoor and outdoor classroom experiences. The Coastal Explorer half-day field trip is made to capture students’ attention in different STEM activities. Teachers can choose from a variety of topics to create a custom field trip.

The field trip provides students with indoor and outdoor laboratories. Topics range from coastal habitats and water quality, to reptile, bird, and fish biology.

“Water quality data collection is a standard skill we teach to help students understand their connection to the ocean, regardless of whether they live on the coast or inland,” said Kastler.

“The subjects we teach reflect the work of Coastal USM scientists and issues important to residents of the Gulf Coast,” said Kastler.

Students tour marsh habitats, identify coastal birds, and go in-depth on the make-up of the Mississippi Sound.

The MEC also sends staff members to schools to lead Marine Biologist in My Classroom activities that open students’ minds to the world of ocean life with dolphins, sharks, and different coastal organisms.

Underwater Robots and the Open Ocean


Middle and high school students can immerse themselves in ocean technology through the MEC’s regional SeaPerch Competition where participants work together to build underwater robots and compete against other teams.

The unforgettable Blue Tech Field Day offers high school students interested in marine science and engineering a chance to board the R/V Jim Franks and explore the world of underwater robotics. The free event gives students opportunities to dive into blue tech careers that support the blue economy.

“The Blue Tech Field Day takes place in the field locations where our scientists work, using the tools our scientists use to address similar questions,” said Kastler.

Dr. Robert Leaf, interim Associate Director of the School of Ocean Science and Engineering (SOSE), sees the MEC as a pathway for future STEM careers.

“The Marine Education Center embodies USM’s commitment to ocean science, stewardship, and outreach and education. With its innovative exhibits and experiential educational programs, the MEC is a beacon of knowledge and invites visitors to explore and learn about Mississippi’s unique and beautiful coastal environments,” said Leaf.

Learn more about the Marine Education Center and field trip opportunities.