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Waves of Change: How a Grandparent Adventure Shaped a Grandchild’s Future

In 2016, when she was 13 years old, Road Scholar Riley attended a Grandparent Adventure with her grandmother. Her experience on the Ocean Science Adventures on Chincoteague Bay With Your Grandchild program helped set the course for her future. 

Group photo of the grandparents and grandchild program at Chincoteague Bay

Now a sophomore studying ecology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, Riley says, “I was always interested in water science. That’s what prompted going on the Road Scholar program with my grandmother in the first place, and it was such an impactful experience.” On the program, Riley was able to experience the Wallops Island NASA base, usually closed to the public, ride on an Oceanography Research Cruise to learn about water quality measures and practices and gain hands-on experience at field sites, including a salt marsh plunge and exploration of the intertidal zone.

“Seeing water policy and research in practice inspired me,” she recalls. “I realized this could be a career and the program motivated me. Eventually, I want to specialize in environmental restoration, working with ocean acidification and trying to save our oceans, which is a big goal, I know,” she laughs.  

Riley remembers the program well. “Chincoteague Island is beautiful,” she recalls. “It was like a summer camp, or a fun summer school. I could tell at the time that the experience was something I was going to take away with me and put to work later in my life.”

Left: Child holding a horseshoe crab

Right: Child holding a sea shell

As impactful as the program’s content was, Riley was also excited about the opportunity to spend time with her grandmother. “I’ve been pretty ambitious since I was little, and she’s always been one of the biggest supporters of my passions; we have a really tightknit relationship,” Riley says of her grandmother. “There was never a moment I wasn’t having a blast, but her being there made it that much better.” Her grandmother’s presence also gave her confidence to get involved with the other members of the program. “I was a very shy kid, but I remember that, by the end, I was opening up more, growing more comfortable throughout the duration of the program.”

Riley also remembers working with the group leaders. “I remember one, her name was Katie, and she had a huge impact on me — even to this day I think about her fairly regularly. That day we had gone trawling on the boat, and a fish had gotten caught in the net. Katie was so patient, trying to work the fish out for a really long time. But, oh, it was funny, because as soon as she got it out, this bird swooped in and caught it,” Riley laughs. “I guess that’s the circle of life, but it was just her devotion to the ocean, the fact that she could name every single fish — I so admired her knowledge.” 

Wild ponies on the island

Clearly, the program was impactful, a combination of time with family and peers in a supportive learning environment. “I think that travel and education programs like these can help play a role in sparking curiosity in the grandkids,” Riley explains. “I think they're everything — kids get excited about really niche, specific things, so any opportunity to encourage that is a good thing. And we have a large, amazing world to explore. Anything that encourages people to get out and see more of it, to gain new understanding and seeing people passionate about what they do is so valuable.”
The program made Riley feel part of something bigger. “I just really appreciated the community that everyone at the field station had together. It showed me that science is a community and that collaboration is the goal.” 

Looking for a special way to spend time with your grandchild? Bring them along on a Road Scholar Grandparent Adventure! Share the best of the great outdoors with them as you snorkel in coral reefs, go whitewater rafting or learn about animals at a zoo. You can even share their love for STEM projects as you learn about robots or even rockets! Each learning adventure is created with your grandchild’s age and learning level in mind, allowing you to both have fun, learn and make new friends. Together, you’ll make memories that will last a lifetime!

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