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Taking Marine Science On The Road

By Lynda Van Kuren, posted Apr 19, 2024
Kimberly Belfer, founder of Marine CSI: Coastal Science Investigations, teaches an after-school class to students at Cape Fear Academy in April. (Photo by Madeline Gray)
Kimberly Belfer, founder and education director of Marine CSI: Coastal Science Investigations, has taught area students about the region’s ecosystem through fun, interactive activities since 2014. 

Belfer has continuously updated her lessons, and she now provides curricula that relate to state science education standards as well as lessons developed specifically for community groups. 

Belfer said she has also made it easier for teachers to attend her workshops so they, too, can learn about and share in-depth information about the coast and its wildlife with their students.

“My mission and my goal is to take my love of marine science, marine ecosystem and coastal ecosystems and bring that to students and teachers,” Belfer said. “I take what I love and express it in a way they understand. I share my love and passion.”

Belfer has enjoyed the outdoors for as long as she can remember, preferring hiking and other activities involving the natural world to all others. But it was when Belfer took an oceanography class in high school that she discovered marine science and her true passion. She went on to major in marine biology at Stockton University in New Jersey and earned her master’s degree in conservation biology from James Cook University in Australia.

Belfer took on various informal teaching roles after graduation. She worked part time or on a seasonal basis with museums, aquariums and other establishments, including the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s MarineQuest, N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher and Museum of Coastal Carolina, to provide unique educational activities for students.

However, none of those programs met Belfer’s career goals, so she formed Marine Science: CSI, a nonformal science education program that she takes on the road. Marine CSI provides on-site field trips during which students engage in hands-on science activities. 

Lower-level students learn about ecosystems, ocean migration, coastal wildlife and food sources and how they all interact. One favorite activity for the little ones is deciphering clues to determine the different types of turtles. Upper-level students engage in sophisticated lessons about the environment, water quality, storms and erosion. For example, middle schoolers discover what happens to the model barrier island they built in an aluminum pan when a storm surge occurs. 

“A lot of science curriculum is text based,” Belfer said. “My program focuses on hands-on activities, so the kids can visually see, touch and feel what they are doing in science.”

Belfer recently upgraded her curricula to ensure it complements state science education standards. 

“My program correlates well with what the standards are focusing on,” Belfer said.

Belfer has also made her lessons more grade-specific so teachers know her activities are developmentally appropriate for each age group.

Belfer said her changes make it easier for teachers and administrators to justify bringing her into their schools. 

“My programs are fee-based, so schools and teachers have to let administrators know they are cost-efficient and worth the cost of paying for it,” Belfer said. “It allows me to come into classes more often.”

Belfer now also offers programs to nonschool groups. Her new preschool program, Young Ecologists, includes a series of science lessons that teach young children about marine life while developing their fine motor skills with arts and crafts projects. And Belfer’s lessons for Girl Scouts meet their badge requirements. 

While the bulk of Belfer’s work is with students, she holds professional development workshops for teachers as well. In both her Coastal Curriculum and Marine Science workshops, she gives teachers curricula and activities they can take back to their classrooms.

Through her new partnership with N.C. Sea Grant, Belfer teaches one workshop a month, up from the one or two a year she could teach in years past.  

Belfer, who is a certified environmental educator in North Carolina, also helps teachers earn their certification.  

“A lot of elementary teachers are not science teachers,” she said. “They are general education teachers, but they are interested in marine or environmental science. This gives them the encouragement to take their passion and experience and bring information and activities to the classroom.”

Belfer’s business has grown substantially over the years. In addition to New Hanover County, she now teaches in Onslow, Pender and Brunswick counties. Also, more schools regularly ask her to return, either to teach classes for the same teachers or different grade levels. 

Belfer’s dream is to build an ecological center where teachers can bring their students to view activities and learn about wildlife. Meanwhile, she hopes to expand farther west and offer in-school field trips to schools in Duplin and Columbus counties. 

To Belfer, teaching students about the coastal ecosystem feels like what she is destined to do.

“I know I couldn’t do anything else,” Belfer said. “I love doing this. I want to keep it going and keep doing it.”
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