Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast loves the ocean. This 2011 USC grad has a master’s degree in Marine and Environmental Biology, a bachelor’s in biology with a minor in non-profits, and spends much of her time developing science curriculums for kindergarten through 12th grade students. That is, when she isn’t on a boat or in a marine research facility. And it all started with GCC’s Baja Field Studies Program.
“Everything about the program was amazing,” says Kast, who attended the program in the summer of 2007 after graduating from La Cañada High School. “We had a week’s classroom instruction and orientation at the Glendale campus, and all the students bonded. On the very first day we were doing fish dissections, which I love. By the end of the week we’d been introduced to the anatomy lab. It wasn’t part of the class, but we met ‘Boris,’ the campus cadaver, and I got to hold a human heart in my hand. It was amazing.”
For Kast, the class became even more magical once they reached the field station near the town of Bahía de los Angeles. “For two weeks, we slept in cots on the beach, woke up at dawn, and the sky would be full of pelicans. We spent whole mornings watching whales and dolphins, snorkeling with whale sharks, hiking, and collecting specimens in tide pools. In the afternoon, Dr Gago [Dr. Javier Gago] would teach the lab and lecture part of the class. At one point, we found a dead sea lion washed up on the beach and dissected it in the field. On another occasion, it was a blue-footed booby [a type of marine bird] and when we performed a necropsy on it, we determined that its cause of death was choking on a pregnant fish. There’s no way to get that type of instruction in a classroom. I thought, ‘This is the kind of place I want to be.’”
The desire to work in ‘this kind of place’ has led Kast to some enviable work assignments at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, an environmental research and education facility run by the University of Southern California on Catalina, and even back to petting baby grey whales in the Scammon’s Lagoon. She’s also blending her passion for marine biology with her knack for supplemental instruction to bear on such programs as USC QuikSCience, the USC Seagrant Program: Parent Child Education Program, and the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative. All three programs aim to inspire inner-city youth to take an interest in science.
“LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District] is no longer required to teach science before fifth grade, because of low-performance in math and English, so many campuses don’t," says Kast. "With USC’s Joint Educational Project (JEP), I helped to create an after-school program called WonderKids that exposes 1st-3rd graders to five fields of science. We have speakers once a week and the marine biology lecturer brought her scuba gear and let all the kids try it on. It was so cute.”
Coming full circle, Kast was recently hired by marine biologist Nancy Caruso’s Get Inspired Program as a marine biology field studies instructor. “I was definitely inspired by GCC’s Baja Field Studies Program,” says Kast. “And I want to share what I’ve learned with kids who might not otherwise get the chance.”