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High School Science Program Sparks Student’s Passion for Marine Science

“Through the [Coastal Ocean Science Academy (COSA)] program, I really figured out what I’m interested in. I had so many great experiences over the three years – tidepooling, studying cod ecotypes, and analyzing different marine environments,” said Northeastern first-year student Michael Dello Russo. “I got to learn a lot about the co-op program and Northeastern in general, and the great facilities at the Marine Science Center.”

Dello Russo’s three summers spent at the Marine Science Center’s COSA program not only confirmed his passions in marine and environmental science, but helped drive his career further in this direction – teaching him about Northeastern’s unique programs and creating a great avenue for his beginnings at the university.

COSA is a two-week summer program for high school students interested in learning about coastal life and habitats. In the first week, students are exposed to many different habitats, experiencing research techniques that scientists at the MSC use. The next week, students work with researchers to analyze their data to create poster projects around various questions and topics. Their ultimate goal is to show students the whole scientific process from beginning to end – from observation to dissemination of research. If students choose to participate in this program for multiple years, they are able to complete more advanced sessions, focusing in on various research topics.

A local of Revere, MA, Dello Russo grew up loving the ocean and often visited Revere Beach with his father to go fishing or tidepooling.

“Instead of watching cartoons as a kid, I watched dinosaur and ocean documentaries,” he said. “It was stuff like that molded me to want to go into environmental science.”

He became interested in the COSA program after his oldest brother completed it and he was able to attend a COSA poster session. Instantly, he knew this program was something he wanted to get involved in.

Each year, the summer program had a different focus. The first year was more introductory, exploring different ecosystems around the Marine Science Center, meeting with Northeastern researchers to learn about their work, and exploring the many tidepools along Nahant’s rocky coastline. In his second and third summers, Dello Russo was able to focus in on different areas of research. In his last year, program participants focused their research on studying two different ecotypes of cod. These cod are of the same species but look very different from one another. Working alongside researchers at the MSC, he studied the fish, collecting and analyzing data to determine why the two fish were so different.

One of his favorite memories during his time at COSA was on a field trip to the Division of Marine Fisheries Field Office in Gloucester, MA. The COSA students had the opportunity to work with researchers there to extract bones from the head of striped bass, which are used to help determine the fish’s age.

“We got to see how they do their research there, and it was a really interesting experience,” he said.

During the school years, Dello Russo was busy competing in science fairs across the state. Many of the projects he researched came from his interests and summer experiences in marine science. His favorite was a project studying microplastic concentrations in local sources like the sand and organisms around the North Shore of Massachusetts. His results showed shocking discoveries on how much plastic is proliferating into our daily lives and food sources.

Dello Russo presenting at the high school science fair. Courtesy photo.

Through the COSA program, Dello Russo was able to experience a small piece of Northeastern research, facilities, and learned a lot about what Northeastern and the College of Science could offer him. As he began to apply to college, Northeastern was one of his top schools.

“I really want to take advantage of the co-ops, that opportunity is really enticing to me. I’m also really interested in the Three Seas program. It seems so awesome and I wouldn’t have known anything about it if not for COSA,” he said.

Now as a freshman in the College of Science, Dello Russo is an Environmental Science major and is interested in being involved in a lot of research, having the opportunity to attend graduate school, and eventually work in conservation.

“I want to be out in the field, working directly with wildlife. I’m not sure if I want to work in specific conservation of a species or more habitat conservation and management, but that’s the area I want to go into,” Dello Russo said.

He’s already gotten involved in on-campus research, as a work study student in Dr. Rebeca Rosengaus’ lab. He is assisting her research on termites, in collecting and processing samples for testing and completing many bacterial cultures.

Marine Science Center Outreach Instructor Val Perini shared her excitement with Dello Russo’s beginnings at Northeastern, and has already seen him visit the MSC several times as part of the marine biology club, and for their annual open house. She has fond memories of his time in the program, as one of the most inquisitive students, and always producing top quality projects at the end of each summer.

“For me as an educator, this is a really exciting thing that has happened,” Perini said. “Our goal in the outreach program is to inspire the next generation of scientists. To see that Michael is pursuing this marine science as a career is really exciting to me, and our hard work is paying off.”

And Dello Russo has incredible appreciation for Perini, as well as Outreach Program Coordinator Carole McCauley.

“They were really great mentors in COSA, and if it weren’t for them guiding me through, it could have been a really different experience,” he said.

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