Oceanography internship sparks undergraduate’s passion for career path

School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) undergraduate student Peter Felicijan has long been engaged in a variety of academic, athletic, and personal pursuits. From the small farming town of Prosser, Washington, Felicijan was in high school clubs that taught him leadership and nurtured his creative side. He competed in tennis and swimming where he learned what it means to be a team member, and in school, he discovered his academic talent.

During summers, Felicijan worked in the cherry orchards with his family to make extra money to pay for college.

“It was a very humbling job and taught me to value my education and to push myself to be the best version of myself that I can imagine,” said Felicijan. “Everything I did in high school I have used to build and prepare myself for my future.”

“In school I was always interested in science and mathematics so I knew I wanted to go into a STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] field,” Felicijan said. “A few of my teachers and family members who work in environmental management encouraged me to go toward environmental science so when I came to UH Mānoa, I decided to major in Global Environmental Science.”

His work ethic and enthusiasm has undoubtedly been a strength in the GES bachelor’s degree program in the Department of Oceanography.

Felicijan connected with Gordon Walker, an oceanographic technician with the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System (PacIOOS), after Walker came to Felicijan’s GES 100 class as a guest lecturer to share his work which uses near shore sensors to better understand water quality and the physical dynamics of coastal waters—sparking Felicijan’s interest.

Impressed by Felician’s enthusiasm and curiosity Walker recommended him for an internship with the PacIOOS Nearshore Sensor Group led by Margaret McManus, professor and chairwoman of the Department of Oceanography. Walker and fellow technician Shaun Wriston taught Felicijan to download temperature, salinity and other water quality data from the sensors; make moorings and prepare sensors for field deployment.

After a successful semester-long internship, McManus offered Felicijan a paid position as a student assistant. His main responsibilities include assisting Walker and Wriston by snorkeling to recover nearshore sensors, downloading data, and performing a variety of lab services or repairs to ensure the data are accurate.

“Before coming to UH I didn’t have any experience in this area of science or work,” said Felicijan. “All I knew was to work hard and perform my best every day. I have enjoyed the wonderful stress-free work environment that Gordon and Shaun have made. It is probably my best achievement this school year and something I am very proud of.”

In addition to gaining invaluable field experience, Felicijan truly appreciates the opportunity to build professional relationships, the camaraderie within the team, and the value of collaboration in environmental studies.

Learning about the environmental significance and necessity of ocean observing, Felicijan’s involvement with the Nearshore Sensor Group has sparked ideas for his undergraduate thesis, and has also inspired him to aim for a graduate degree in physical oceanography.