Eufaula GEAR UP seventh graders tour the OK Aquarium & Tulsa Community College Southeast Campus

Forty-two Eufaula GEAR UP students recently traveled to Jenks to visit the Oklahoma Aquarium and Tulsa to tour Tulsa Community College (TCC). Students began the morning by participating in a guided tour at OK Aquarium. Education Specialist Michelle Zarantonello led students behind the scenes of the OK Aquarium exhibits. The tour started at the newest addition to the aquarium, Sea Turtle Island. The exhibit features a 300-pound loggerhead turtle and many other species of fish. One of the largest puffer head fish is in this tank and two types of shark species.

The “Inside Story” tour took students through the kitchen where biologists were preparing meals for the animals. The walls are made of dry erase boards and list the animals’ menu for each day. Not all animals are fed every day but they are on a specific diet plan to make sure they provide enough nutrients and variety to their meals. Next students got to see the shark exhibit from the top of the tank. This exhibit is a 40-foot-wide tank that is 12 feet deep. The Education Specialist pointed out the various large tanks around this exhibit and how they filter the salt water for the largest tank.

Students explored the exhibit from inside the Shark Tunnel. The tunnel goes directly through the shark tank and allows visitors to see the sharks swimming all around them. There are ten bull sharks and three nurse sharks in the tank. The largest bull shark is a female that is approximately 200 pounds and eight feet long. Among the most likely sharks to attack humans, bull sharks favor shallow coastal waters—the same places humans prefer to swim. Bull sharks have been seen leaping up river rapids, salmon-like, to reach inland lakes. These sharks are known for aggression, and students could see some of the scars from their scuffles with one another.

Following the guided tour, students were free to explore the rest of the aquarium. There was a “Touch Tank” where students could feel small sharks and stingrays. The otters and beavers were being fed, and students learned about their diet and habits in the wild. Other exciting exhibits included albino turtles, lobster, shrimp, starfish, a huge catfish and very large iguanas among other interesting animals. There are numerous exhibits for students to interact and learn about each animal.

After lunch students toured the Southeast campus of Tulsa Community College (TCC). Admissions Counselor William Baldwin led students through TCC’s largest campus. TCC offers numerous programs and majors but the Southeast campus is primarily known for the performing arts and medical majors. Programs are hands on to prepare students to transfer to a four-year university or go immediately into the workforce. Class sizes are small, averaging only 25 students.

Students began the tour in Building 6, also known as the Performing Arts Center for Education (PACE) Building. Baldwin explained the various ways to be involved in the arts, even if a student doesn’t want to be a performer. The behind the scenes involvement for each production is huge. There are costumes to be made, lighting and sound to set up and students passed the set shop where all sets are created and stored. Students saw behind the Black Box Theatre where there are very large garage doors to move the sets and stages. The stage and seating can be arranged in any way inside this theatre to accommodate the show’s needs.

Eufaula students got a special treat seeing the famous “HVZ”, or Humans vs Zombies, going on all around them during their visit. This is a famous game played at all four TCC campuses and all around Tulsa. It’s a great way for students to socialize and have fun during the middle of the semester. Next students walked through the newly renovated Student Union where college students have multiple “hang-out” spots with comfortable seating and charging stations. There is also a small cafeteria for students to eat in between classes. The building also features the Campus Store where students can purchase all supplies needed for class, as well as, use the big screen televisions to play video games for free.

Building 9 was the last stop. Here students learned about the Student Life offices and walked through the fitness center. Student Life oversees all Student Organizations on campus. TCC students can get discounted tickets to events, shows and other attractions around the Tulsa area such as the Zoo. The discounts are significant and keep students immersed in the Tulsa culture. The gymnasium was a favorite for most students. There are two large basketball courts, a rock wall, exercise equipment, a walking track and smaller rooms for fitness classes. Baldwin encouraged students to stay active and avoid gaining the “freshmen fifteen.”

“Eufaula students are being exposed to so many future possibilities now. This trip was extremely beneficial in getting them more excited about school and the future,” said GEAR UP Education Coordinator Rachael Ranallo.

The field trip was sponsored by Eastern Oklahoma State College GEAR UP. Participating schools take two field trips each academic year—one to tour a college or university and one that is cultural/educational in nature. Eastern recently received a $17 million federal GEAR UP grant and will serve over 3,000 students in 39 area schools for seven years.

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