First-year UMaine students dive into marine sciences at Darling Marine Center

The University of Maine Darling Marine Center (DMC) hosted a three-day orientation program last week for 30 first-year students in the School of Marine Sciences (SMS).

William “Wge” Ellis, associate director of UMaine SMS, leads the annual boot camp, in cooperation with DMC director Heather Leslie and the other seven UMaine faculty based at the Walpole campus.

“We have an amazing facility on the midcoast, the Darling Marine Center, and I just love to bring students to Walpole as part of their introduction to UMaine,” says Ellis, who also is an associate professor of oceanography.

The marine sciences boot camp provides an opportunity for students to become acquainted with facilities and faculty based at UMaine’s marine laboratory in Walpole. It also introduces students to the methods that marine scientists use to study the biology, chemistry, physics and human dimensions of coastal and ocean ecosystems.

The program begins in Orono, where students move into their residence hall rooms and meet some of the faculty and students with whom they will work over the next four years. They also get a chance to try SCUBA gear (Discover SCUBA) in the UMaine pool under the supervision of Chris Rigaud, UMaine’s Diving Safety Officer, and his staff.

They then head to the DMC, where they’re introduced to some of the more than 45 faculty, staff, and graduate students based in Walpole through activities in and around the Damariscotta River Estuary.

Students learn about the ecology of the estuary, including mudflats and rocky shores. They hear from scientists engaged in aquaculture, fisheries and coastal ecology research at UMaine’s 180-acre campus in Walpole.

They also learn about summer internship opportunities and the Semester by the Sea program, during which they can spend a fall, immersed in hands-on marine science projects.

“Undergraduate students are at the heart of what we do at the DMC — they conduct research with us, they learn with us, and they are core partners in the work we do in collaboration with community and industry partners,” noted Leslie. “It’s so exciting to welcome a new group of students to marine sciences and the DMC.

The orientation helps students chart the course of their academic careers and develop connections with other students that can last throughout their time at UMaine and beyond.

The marine sciences boot camp is a keystone strategy of the SMS to recruit, retain and support students throughout their time at the university. This year, the boot camp was one of 24 Research Learning Experiences (RLEs) offered to UMaine first- and second-year students. RLEs are classes that challenge students across all disciplines to discover new knowledge, express their creativity and solve problems through coursework that is typically not available in their initial years of study. Details are available at

Contact: Heather Leslie, 207.563.8299,; Matthew Norwood, 207.563.8220,