Thanks to Docents, Tours are Educational and Fun

by Dave on July 23, 2009

On a muggy summer morning at the University of Delaware’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, about 25 visitors gather in the lobby of Cannon Lab, the campus’ main building. Though dressed in summer attire – shorts, tees, flip-flops, and sunglasses – the group isn’t assembling for a trip to cool off at the beach.

They’re about to take a free tour of UD’s Lewes campus, where they’ll learn about research on topics such as the use of marsh plants for biodiesel fuel, superheated geysers at the bottom of the ocean, and Delaware’s offshore wind resources.

If this sounds like a fascinating way to pass a morning, you’re not alone. Since UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE) began offering 90-minute walking tours of its marine research complex in 1992, more than 17,000 guests have visited.

Making all those tours possible is a team of 11 volunteer tour guides, a dedicated group of retired professionals from education, business, law, and science, who have made understanding and passing on knowledge about marine research their passion.

“We are diverse, but we are united in our commitment to increasing awareness about our vulnerable marine and coastal environment,” said Roz Troupin, a retired radiologist and head docent. “Another common bond is our huge admiration for the contributions of our CEOE faculty and our desire to educate visitors about their work.”

Attracting everyone from locals, scouts, and vacationers in the summer to school classes, retirement communities, and church groups in the fall, the tours begin with a 15-minute video that showcases some of the many ways CEOE researchers and students explore the coastal environment in Delaware and beyond. Next, the docents lead a walking tour of the research buildings, which includes a stop at the greenhouse and the tropical reef tank, as well as multiple posters and exhibits.

Being ready to talk science is a must, Troupin said, and docents spend hours brushing up. They educate themselves through activities such as taking courses, reading current research literature, and getting periodic updates from the faculty. New docents also learn the ropes by shadowing veterans of the program for a few weeks.

“The night before a tour you better believe I’m up studying,” Troupin said.

And, as visitors will tell you, their work shows. Rehoboth Beach resident Beverly Sanderson and several visiting family members from out of the state recently went on a tour. Sanderson’s 15-year-old granddaughter’s interest in marine biology was the initial motivating factor, she said, but it turned out to be educational for the whole group.

“We all found it extremely interesting,” she said. “The research is so varied.”

The docents try to tailor their tours specifically to the day’s group, which may include kids ages 10 and up.

Gordon Blizard, who has a physics and engineering background and is in his fifth year as a docent, said he enjoys seeing youngsters’ reactions to live horseshoe crabs that live in tanks in one of the research labs.

“I get enthusiastic when I see people’s interest,” he said.

To accommodate growing popularity, in 2007 the program expanded its scheduled summer tours from once to twice weekly. They currently take place until early September, on Tuesdays and Fridays at 10 a.m. Individuals can call 302-645-4346, no later than noon the day before, to reserve a place.

Tours also take place from September through May and can be scheduled a week in advance for groups of five or more people, Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

For more about CEOE, visit www.ceoe.udel.edu.

–Provided by UD CEOE

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