Amanda Patek was invited to attend Shedd Aquarium’s ecology program and was awarded half the program fee in scholarship aid.
Posted 09 September 2011, by Toni Greathouse, Bolingbrook Patch (Patch Network), bolingbrook.patch.com
Amanda Patek, a junior at Bolingbrook High School, loves animals.
Her passion is so great that she decided as an elementary school student that she wanted to be a veterinarian — even though exposure to animals with fur irritates her allergies.
Regardless of the discomfort, when she was in seventh grade, Patek began volunteering at a Plainfield horse farm — a place she is so passionate about that in three years, the only week she has ever taken off occurred last month.
“Amanda started out scooping poop,” said Patek’s mother, Melinda Patek. “Now she gets to walk around the horses while the handicapped children ride. Amanda absolutely will not give it up even though the sneezing and snotting make her a big miserable mess.”
Melinda Patek began gently nudging her daughter in another direction that offered an alternate avenue to pursue her dream job.
“It was weird, I was flipping through the Bugle (the end of last year) and saw an ad about a high school marine biology program offered through the Shedd Aquarium. Amanda works summers as a lifeguard for the Bolingbrook Park District, so of course I immediately told her about it,” she said.
Melinda Patek’s inquiry illuminated a slightly different career path.
“I am a swimmer,” Amanda Patek said. “I love animals and I love to be in the water. So I applied for the program.”
Melinda Patek was amazed at her daughter’s voracity throughout the application process, which required her to submit a research paper, letters of recommendation as well as undergo an interview process.
“I got a call from Colby Mitchell at the Shedd who interviewed Amanda and let us know the only reason she wasn’t accepted was because she was the youngest applicant and didn’t have any experience,” Melinda Patek said. “The good news is that Amanda can reapply next year (for the marine biology program) and hopefully get in.”
Although Amanda Patek wasn’t accepted for the marine biology program, she was invited to attend Shedd Aquarium’s ecology program and was awarded half the program fee in scholarship aid.
“Our mission at Shedd Aquarium is to connect people, especially the next generation of scientists and conservationists, to the living world. Our High School Lake Ecology program is the perfect way to bridge students with a passion for Great Lakes conservation and research with ongoing studies in the scientific community,” said Andrea Smalec, Shedd’s director of communications and public relations.
The High School Lake Ecology Program is not your average science class.
It is aquatic science with a local twist, as Amanda Patek and 21 other students learned by exploring the natural history and ecology on the southern shore of Lake Superior in the Apostle Islands — a place known for its majestic caves, sunken shipwrecks and natural beauty.
For a week, Amanda Patek and her peers were split into several small groups and sent off in kayaks to explore the 22 islands. At night, they returned to base camp and slept among the stars on the campgrounds of Bayfield, Wis.
The well-supervised program is overseen by three Shedd staff members and two independent wilderness guides.
Prior to leaving for the Apostle Islands, Amanda Patek and her peers were required to complete three days of preparation work at Shedd’s education center, where they learned how to collect water samples and practice experiments. They also learned about visual observation during a trip to a forest preserve in the Indiana Dunes.
“The very best part was meeting people who have the same interest as me and sharing the experiences together,” Amanda Patek said. “I loved the program and can’t say there was anything bad about the trip.
“It would have been great to do a little more underwater stuff, and I’m hoping to get accepted to the marine biology program, which is held in the Bahamas and do that next summer.”
For now, Amanda Patek has the added incentive to dive into high school biology. What is her long-term payoff? A looming career as a marine biologist, where exposure will never extend beyond hypoallergenic animals.