Internship points senior in right direction

Emilia Fuentes, Graphics Editor

A 30 minute MARTA ride turns senior Samantha Cannon’s dream into a reality, working at the Georgia Aquarium.

Cannon began volunteering at the aquarium in the summer of 2016, years after having first gone.

“I have loved the GA Aquarium ever since it opened,” Cannon said. “I first went with my Grandma and it was so cool that I kept going. Eventually people started asking me if I worked there because I went so often, so I figured why not.”

After a two month-long application process, Cannon was accepted into the volunteer guest program. As a volunteer, Cannon participates in a program called Weekend Warriors, where volunteers work weekend shifts up to six hours long. Her first shift was especially memorable.

“It just went from zero to 100 real quick,” Cannon said. “One of the small rays in the touch tanks came up, went vertical, and it just flapped three gallons of water onto my leg. It was hilarious.”

Although Cannon mostly works at touch tanks, she also shadows employees and leads gallery walks. New volunteers typically don’t teach classes, so it was a surprise when Cannon’s boss unexpectedly asked her to teach a sea otter class.

“I was a little overwhelmed because I had to use a microphone and teach a bunch of people about sea otters,” Cannon said. “This one Saturday there were like 14 thousand people there, so it can get intense.”

Cannon enjoys teaching anyone about marine life, no matter their previous knowledge. The more people, the better.

“There are people that barely speak English and that are just like ‘oh and ah’ when they see things, and they don’t care to learn anything else,” Cannon said. “There are also people that want to know exactly what kind of shark that is and exactly why they have so many gills, and I love that I can share that with them.”

Cannon is especially proud of her sea lion encounter. After four months of volunteering, Cannon met two rescue sea lion pups, Neptune and Diego.

“There wasn’t a moment I didn’t enjoy,” Cannon said. “I went in without any expectations at all, so I was surprised by every little thing. It was truly amazing.”

Cannon will continue volunteering as a guide at the sea lion gallery, and hopes to work with Neptune and Diego on a regular basis.

Samantha’s initiative in pursuing an opportunity to work at the aquarium impressed her mom, Beth Cannon.

“It was pretty awesome watching my own kid take control of their own destiny and talent,” Beth said. “That sounds kind of goofy, but it really was awesome seeing her go after it.”

Beth recognizes that the 2015 movie “Raising Extinction” opened Samantha’s eyes and clarified what she really wanted to pursue. Samantha’s father Terry Cannon, however, recognizes their trip to Jekyll Island as a defining moment for Samantha.

Although the Cannons take family trips two to three times a year, Samantha surprised Terrey when she asked to clean Jekyll Island for her birthday present.  

“She was the youngest person there and had probably traveled the farthest to be there,” Terry said. “That’s when I went ‘wow she’s really into this,’ and it was really cool.”

Samantha is interested in pursuing a career in marine biology, and while she is still uncertain about the specifics, she is currently fascinated in “being a field biologist to tag and track sharks”.

While Terry can see Samantha conducting research, he also anticipates a career in education.

“I think she will be doing marine education or even working at the aquarium as an employee and giving back and teaching people what she knows,” Terry said.

Laura Griesser, Manager of Volunteer Programs at the Georgia Aquarium, has worked with Samantha since she began volunteering in July. Griesser feels that each volunteer possesses characteristics that make them incredible: excellent guest service, flexibility and a passion for aquatic life and the environment.

“Without them, we would not be able to accomplish all that we do,” Griesser said.

Samantha feels fortunate to be volunteering at the Ga. Aquarium because of the opportunities she now has.

“I feel so lucky, so, so lucky to be volunteering at the aquarium,” Samantha said. “It’s opened so many doors that I didn’t even know existed.”

Beth is “extremely proud” of Samantha for not only knowing what she wants to do but also for going after it.

“It’s awesome,” Beth said. “It’s one of those things that I think a parent hopes for, that their kiddo finds their passion and gets to pursue that. She’s a good girl, and she cares about what she’s doing. We should all be so lucky.”