This semester has been anything but ordinary for SUNY Morrisville student Emilee Niejadlik.
Through an internship as an aquarium fellow at the world-class Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC), she interacted with octopuses, helped heal a wolf eel, and saw firsthand the magnificence of a sunflower sea star, the largest many-rayed sea star in the world.
The internship, a requirement for her bachelor’s degree in renewable resources technology, is the culmination of hard work leading up to graduation day.
Niejadlik, of Hamburg, could not receive her diploma in person with the rest of her classmates on May 11, as she took on a new full-time role as an animal care specialist at the aquarium through September.
“It is great having a hand in caring for the oceans and the animals that live in it,” Niejadlik said from the ASLC, which sprawls across seven waterfront acres along the shores of Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska, and contains more than 100 species of animals. It is Alaska’s only permanent marine mammal rehabilitation unit — a haven for stranded and injured seals, sea lions, sea otters and all different species of sea birds.
During her internship, Niejadlik helped to clean, feed and maintain the health of animals in the exhibits and also provided octopus encounters, which are 60-minute presentations about the life cycle of an octopus that include feeding and interacting with them.
In addition to her daily responsibilities at the aquarium, Niejadlik also is obtaining her dry suit diver certification, with hopes to become a permanent diver. Certification will enable her to dive into exhibits for maintenance purposes and to help collect animals that get caught in nets in Resurrection Bay.
Selection for the competitive, unpaid internship at ASLC included a lengthy application process.
“This is an awesome experience,” Niejadlik said.