Researchers from Santa Barbara Coastal (SBC) and Moorea Coral Reef (MCR) LTER sites recently had the privilege to help make a dream come true for a 17 year old high school student from Baton Rouge, La. Caroline Roy is passionate about marine biology, but what sets her apart from most aspiring scientists is her determined battle against a life threatening illness.
When she was 11, Caroline was diagnosed with recurrent pleomorphic adenomas, a rare form of cancer of the salivary gland. Since then she has had three surgeries and radiotherapy to address subsequent recurrences and has endured many months of painful recovery. Caroline’s illness has not deterred her from pursuing her dream of a college education and becoming a marine scientist. After much online research Caroline identified the Marine Science Institute (MSI) at the University of California- Santa Barbara (UCSB) as the place she most wanted to visit.
Dreams Come True of Louisiana, Inc., a nonprofit organization that fulfills dreams for children with life-threatening illnesses, helped to fulfill Caroline’s wish. Caroline was the first in the history of the foundation to ask for an educational experience, and they granted her wish by sending her and her family to Santa Barbara after contacting SBC Lead-Investigator, Dan Reed, who helped arrange her visit to UCSB.
LTER researchers from SBC and MCR spent the day with Caroline and her family –– parents Karen and Phillip, and younger brothers Austin and Joseph. Caroline was eager to learn about the research being done by MCR and SBC LTER sites, as well as the numerous opportunities for UCSB undergraduates to participate in these research programs. The visit included a tour of campus, visits to the LTER research labs, a field trip to intertidal beach and reef communities at Campus Pt, and ended with a hands-on demonstration at MSI’s Research Experience and Education Facility (better known as the REEF), an interactive teaching aquarium where Caroline and her family were able to get an up close view of the marine life found in the Santa Barbara Channel.
"If they'll have me, I want to come here," Caroline said. “I thought we'd have a campus tour, but I never expected people to invite us into their labs and spend so much time with us and show us so many things."
The significance of the experience was not lost on Caroline's mother, Karen. "She was just glowing when anyone was speaking to her," she said. "The university's been amazing with everything they've done for us. With tragedy come huge blessings, and that's what she's experiencing here."