Healthy Oceans Blog

Q&A with Sheryl Gilmore

What organization do you work for?
Acadia Institute of Oceanography (AIO)

Describe the mission and vision of the Acadia Institute of Oceanography
The AIO exists to offer middle and high school students the chance to explore career options in marine science. We study the chemical, physical, and biological aspects of oceanography through hands-on activities at the shore, on board boats, and in the laboratory.

What is your job title?
I’m the Executive Director of the program and I also teach within the program.

Tell me about your background. 
I graduated with my undergraduate degree from Kalamazoo College, a small, liberal arts college in Michigan. I studied theater and psychology and added education after completing an internship as a sophomore, where I taught environmental education in Maine. I fell in love with it [teaching] and realized that I wanted to be a teacher. I also fell in love with Maine so I continued to return during breaks in school and moved here once I graduated. I feel my theater background helped me as a teacher and I would encourage every teacher to take some theater classes. I’m currently working on my Masters in science education.

Who are your role models, who inspired and/or inspires you?
I’m inspired every day by those people who have overcome odds to create productive lives and by those who never let “no” turn them away from their dreams. My former students who have moved on into careers they love and that make difference in other’s lives constantly inspire me. Another Healthy Oceans Coalition member, Lindsay Hirt, is one such former student. I’m so impressed by her drive to educate young people about the ocean and marine mammals. If we make them care about these things, then they’ll want to protect them and Lindsay has really found ways to reach them. There are former students working as researchers in the Antarctic, looking at past climates in bogs, working at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, veterinary medicine, teachers, lawyers, opera singers, and more.  All of them have pursued their dreams, no matter what, and that inspires me.

Describe a day-in-the-life of Sherry Gilmore.
There really is no “typical” day for me.  During the school year, I work from my home to recruit students for the program, talking to parents about what we do, recruiting staff and arranging winter programs.  We run a program over the Thanksgiving week each year where we send exemplary students from the summer to either Belize or Florida. I’m also a wife and mom of three so I juggle that with the AIO work and the classes I’m currently taking. During the summer, I continue to handle the office work of AIO but I also get to teach – which is my favorite part! For ten weeks in the summer, I work every day. I’m tired at the end but I love it.

What inspired you to choose a career path in the environmental field?
I briefly did some teaching in the classroom but couldn’t bear to be inside for that long! I love teaching about the natural environment and working in this hands-on type of education.

What inspired you to choose a career path in education?
I love collaborating with the other teachers and I love working with the students. It just seemed like a perfect fit for me.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Knowing that I made a difference in a student’s life. When they return, ten years later, and tell me how much they loved their time at AIO and how it impacted them.

Have you noticed any trends or changes in Maine’s waters? If so, what have you noticed?
I have noticed several changes, some that are concerning. Invasive species, such as the European green crab (Carcinus maenas) are more tolerant to salinity and temperature changes so they have taken over the shoreline, replacing the indigenous rock crab in many areas. I saw my first dogfish (Squalus acanthias) in about 25 years in an area where we used to catch them fishing regularly, two summers ago. I see a lot of lobsters but very few green urchins now. We’ve been running water testing trips with students for 43 years in a fjord on Mt. Desert Island (Somes Sound) and, although I haven’t noticed big temperature changes in this protected area, I have noticed drops in pH and rises in CO2. I believe overfishing and rapidly changing climates has created these changes.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges we face in protecting, restoring, and/or conserving the environment?
Fighting the idea that climate change is normal and that people living on the earth have nothing to do with it.  Yes, the climate changes and should be expected over the earth’s lifetime. Now, however, the rate of change is so rapid that many life forms will not have the opportunity to adapt to the change. Some extinction is normal but not at the rate we’re experiencing currently.

What steps do we need to take to overcome some of these challenges?
Keep educating the public and be honest about data. Our cause has been hurt by people who, with the best of intentions, try to alarm everyone with fudged data. I believe the feeling was unless we make it seem dire nothing will change.  That may be true but it’s worse when bad data is used because it calls into question all of the data.  I really think it’s important to work on our young people to show them how they affect the earth and teach them ways to have a lesser negative impact on it.  They will be our leaders someday so we need to focus on them.

What goes into planning the curriculum for AIO?
I work closely with my staff to constantly update and create new lessons for students.  We have a pretty comprehensive program now but it’s important to take new ideas and integrate new energy into it on a regular basis.

What are you doing in the ‘off-season’?
Off-season? That’s funny!

What makes AIO special?
We offer a solid academic program through hands-on activities. We give the students a strong lesson and then go into the field to demonstrate it.

How does the work being done at AIO connect to the National Ocean Policy?
The data collection and acting as a clearinghouse is important. And anything that helps us keep the oceans healthy is important to everyone and the program.

What are your hopes for the Healthy Oceans Coalition as we move forward?
I would like to see the HOC continue to pull together stakeholders from around the country. The more this “database” of information and resources grows, the stronger we become when making decisions about the best uses of the ocean and Great Lakes.

What are some career accomplishments that you are most proud of?
I’m just proud of my work at AIO, having pulled together an accomplished and hardworking staff and attracting such brilliant, young minds to attend.

What advice do you have for anyone starting out in his or her careers? What about folks that are late in their careers?
Don’t let anyone tell you that your dream is impossible.  It may morph and go in slightly different directions but find that thing that you are passionate about and pursue it. Don’t be afraid to open doors because there are often wonderful unexpected surprises behind them. For those experienced educators, I say, it’s never too late to learn something new. After 34 years in my program, I continue to learn everyday from staff and students. And never forget what it was like to be where your students or staff are right now. You’ll be a better leader.