Farrell with TRIO students at Indian River Bay.
Photo by Bob Bowden
As a resource management specialist focusing on water quality issues with the Delaware Sea Grant College Program, Joe Farrell never imagined he would end up working with high school students. But he’ll be the first to tell you that sometimes the best opportunities are those you don’t expect.
Ten years ago, when the chance to work with Delaware Technical & Community College TRIO programs presented itself, Farrell decided to give it a try. Today he has a long list of programs he’s developed for TRIO students, who are traditionally underrepresented on college campuses and in need of extra support and mentoring in order to reach their college goals.
The students have gained real-life skills and added support that they wouldn’t have had without access to the programs, which have highlighted topics ranging from oyster growth to invasive species. Alumni of Farrell’s programs have gone on to become college graduates, many of them the first ones in their families, and have begun careers in math and science areas as well as education and entrepreneurship.
“Joe is a great role model, dedicated and passionate about his job,” said Ryan Brown, program manager of the Delaware Tech TRIO program Upward Bound Math & Science program. “He’s allowing our students to research, use the scientific method, and interact with the undergraduate and graduate students.”
One of Farrell’s previous programs, for instance, focused on environmental justice. He took the students to visit underserved communities and taught them how to take and test water samples. The students wrote reports and presented the results to state and local agencies. The awareness created by the project contributed to one of the communities receiving improved water service.
“My students were learning a lot about social justice, environmental issues, and community service, as well as becoming active citizens,” Brown said, adding that she’s looking forward to Joe’s involvement with this year’s summer curriculum.
Last month, Delaware State TRIO Organization, the professional organization for the statewide federally funded TRIO programs, recognized Farrell’s contributions by presenting him the Friends of TRIO Award. Farrell was honored for his work developing programs as well as mentoring students, including one who interned with Delaware Sea Grant and helped assist with the award presentation.
“I am very touched by this honor,” said Farrell, who is based on the UD College of Marine and Earth Studies (CMES) Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes. “I think so highly of the students and TRIO staff that I’ve worked with, it makes the honor even more important to me.”
He explained that the programs’ success is due to his ability to utilize his contacts in the community and university, including his Delaware Sea Grant colleagues.
“These kids are looking for some guidance in career opportunities and there was an opportunity for me to serve as a connection to our college’s resources and our community’s resources that I work with on a regular basis.”
Making those connections has benefitted everyone involved. For Farrell and the volunteer mentors who have helped him with the programs, there has been fulfillment in working with the students and helping them see their potential.
“The students have made a difference in my life and in the lives of many of the UD and community volunteers who have had a chance to know them as well,” he said.
For the students, there has been the invaluable encouragement and support of adults who care.
“The TRIO programs mean a great deal to many students as well as myself,” one alum wrote to Farrell in a letter of support, “and it is the constant encouragement and support that you and others like yourself give that make our dreams become realities.”
Farrell’s other Sea Grant projects include overseeing the UD Citizen Monitoring Program (http://citizen-monitoring.udel.edu), in which community members take water samples from throughout Delaware’s coastal watershed to measure a host of important water quality characteristics. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a master’s degree in marine resource management from Oregon State University.
To learn more about the Delaware Sea Grant College Program, visit www.deseagrant.org. For more about CMES, visit www.ocean.udel.edu.