Students Earn A National Life Support System Certification in Aquarium Science

As part of the Aquarium Science Program at Oregon Coast Community College (OCCC), students in the program’s Life Support Systems Design and Operation course were given an opportunity to achieve a nationally recognized certification.  The certificate, titled a “Level One Life Support Operator”, was issued through the Aquatic Animal Life Support Operators group (AALSO) which consists of a board of directors and membership of professional life support operators at public zoos, aquariums and aquaculture facilities across the nation.

For the first time, Aquarium Science students enrolled in the college’s
Life Support class earn the Aquatic Animal Life Support Operator
Level One Certificate as part of the course final exam. (left to right)
Alex Hirota, Emily Carter, Angel Demers, Bethany Cronin, Colleen Paquette, Erika Pinney, Teresa Russell, Drew Shelquist, Pete Snell,
Ben Todd.
Aquarium Science Students Emily Carter and Alex Hirota attend the Aquatic Animal Life Support Operators Symposium in Las Vegas.

Each year, AALSO holds a symposium at a host institution in a different city somewhere in the U.S.  Professionals and invited guests participate in presentations, exchange of new and current ideas, and workshops.  Additionally, attendees of the conference are given the option to take certification exams.  The exams include the progression of proficiency in skills and knowledge ranging across three levels each with increasing difficulty and starting at level one.

Students enrolled in the Aquarium Science Program’s Life Support Systems Design and Operation class learn concepts related to life support systems in aquariums. Some of these topics include fluid dynamics in water pumping systems, filtration theory and components, impacts on water chemistry, and the effects of equipment on gas exchange in water.  The course also includes hand’s on practical learning where students develop, design, and construct life support systems as part of term projects and lab activities.

This year, members of the AALSO Board of Directors and Aquarium Science Program faculty met and discussed the potential opportunities for the Aquarium Science Program and its students to participate more closely with the professional community of life support operators.  As a result, test questions from the Level One Operator certification exam were incorporated into the final exam in the college’s life support class.  Students who scored a grade of 70% or higher on the certification questions were qualified to receive the certification at that level.  All twelve aquarium science students in the class achieved their Level One Operator certificates. “The opportunity AALSO has provided for the aquarium science students to achieve nationally recognized certifications in addition to their degrees is very special.”, explains Chris Spaulding, the Aquarium Science Program Director.  “I am excited that this partnership and opportunity will be part of the program each year.”

Mike Bajek, Life Support Systems Manager, Landry’s Golden Nugget and AALSO Treasurer commented “This is a great opportunity for both the OCCC students and their prospective employers/coworkers to meet.  The annual symposium and workshop provides a forum for life support operators, professionals and industry leaders to exchange information, ideas and experience to enhance stewardship of the animals in our care. It is also imperative that we exchange new information and industry ideas with the individuals that are the future of the industry.  The relationship of AALSO and OCCC is mutually beneficial for everyone and I hope that it continues for years to come.”

Additionally, the AALSO Board was able to secure funding from industry sponsors to cover the expenses for two students in the class to attend the annual AALSO Symposium held in Las Vegas in March.  Students Emily Carter and Alex Hirota were selected to attend the symposium based on their top scores in the class.  Carter and Hirota were also given the opportunity to take the Level 2 Operator exam while at the conference. “Achieving the certification and being able to attend the symposium was a highlight in the program that I am extremely grateful for. Now I have one more credential and experience to add to my resume!” said Carter.

“The value of earning the AALSO certificate and interacting with professionals in the industry broadens the employment opportunities for Aquarium Science students”, explains Spaulding.  Program graduates are currently employed at aquatic animal care facilities throughout the country as a direct result of these interactions which the program offers.

In addition to Aquarium Science, the College offers several other career and technical education programs including Nursing, Medical Assistant, Criminal Justice and Nursing Assistant.  Refer to the College website, for specific application information about each program or talk with an advising specialist at (541) 265-2283.