Megan Keene ’21: A Keen Eye for Adventure

Over the last two years, senior swimmer Megan Keene (Chelmsford, Mass./Chelmsford) has taken advantage of every opportunity thrown her way off the pool deck, whether it was swimming with whale sharks in Tanzania, studying humpback whales at the New England Aquarium, or investing time in a multitude of activities at Gettysburg College.

The typically quiet and reserved Keene has blossomed into an adventure-seeker of sorts since arriving at Gettysburg four years ago. It all started with a decision to travel abroad during her the first half of her junior year. Keene initially thought about going to Australia because of her passion for marine biology, but a conversation with a fellow environmental studies major swayed her down a different road.

“She did the Zanzibar program and she was talking about how it is experiential learning,” recalled Keene. “So that means we aren’t in the classroom. I’m not studying at a brick and mortar university somewhere else. I am out in the field every day and gaining research and personal communication skills.”

Instead of heading to the Pacific Ocean and joining several classmates and teammates in Australia, Keene travelled across the breadth of the Atlantic Ocean and the African continent to the island of Zanzibar, just to the east of mainland Tanzania. She went on African safaris across the nature reserves, snorkeled amongst coral reefs, and learned to communicate with the local populace in Swahili over four months.

The trip involved a month-long self-designed project and Keene invested her time into creating educational videos to help inform local school-age children about the importance of coral reefs near Chumbe Island, a small patch of land perched above the water between Zanzibar and the mainland. The Gettysburg swimmer collected underwater footage with a Go-Pro camera and used Adobe Premiere to produce the video and had her local advisor narrate the video in Swahili.

“I knew I wanted to do something different and I really went outside my comfort zone,” said Keene. “I mean, who would have thought I would go to Tanzania, live in a homestay, and speak Swahili for four months. Honestly if you had told me that freshman year, I’d say you were crazy. I definitely had an outside of the box experience, but I wouldn’t have changed that for the world.”

When Keene returned to Gettysburg, she walked into the middle of an outstanding season for the Bullets. She competed in the last few dual meets of the season, helping the team polish off a 10-1 record, but it was a tough transition coming back from abroad where she was able to do little in the way of training. Keene didn’t suit up for the CC Championship in the Bullets Pool, but she’s a visible figure in any pool deck photo, cheering for her teammates as they brought home gold medal after gold medal on the way to claiming the program’s 15th Centennial title.

Not long after the celebration of the team’s title, the Covid-19 pandemic took center stage and forced Keene and the rest of the student population off campus. Keene didn’t waste any time on another unique experience, applying for an internship with the marine mammal and education program at the New England Aquarium in Boston.

Communicating to the public on environmental issues had been a growing desire for Keene and the internship at the aquarium, a venue she had frequented as a child, seemed a perfect fit to hone her skills. Typically, her days would be filled with boat trips out into the ocean to observe whale populations and collect data. On the return from the voyage, Keene would then relate any pertinent information to the tourists on the boat, while conveying the importance of ocean conservation.

However, those plans were waylaid by the pandemic. Policies in Massachusetts prevented group tourist activities and boating for most of the summer, leaving Keene only one opportunity to sail the seas. Instead, her internship pivoted to a remote learning experience.

“I literally had one week, so it was really disappointing,” said the Gettysburg senior. “I’m really grateful that the aquarium was able to pivot to remote because I was still able to work with the data and do the research aspect of the program. I was able to do a project on the effects of marine debris on the feeding whales in Stellwagen Bank.”

Keene’s project focused on the location of large and extra-large marine debris, which included a variety of plastics, Styrofoam containers, balloons, and other harmful items to marine life. Those GPS coordinates were then matched with coordinates for the feeding areas of the local humpback whale population. Keene evaluated data from 2016-2020 and created a database for naturalists to use as they try to keep the whale population safe and out of harm’s way from the debris.

“It’s the first time they’ve done something like that with the internship and the collection data,” she indicated. “So I think it’s pretty cool. And I know they’re trying to do something similar in years to come with future interns so I’m excited about that. This internship really got me into data science and doing more data science type research.”

Keene’s experiences in Tanzania and at the aquarium propelled her headlong into her senior thesis project at Gettysburg. That project focuses on marine protected areas and what kind of extractive and non-extractive uses are going on – things like tourism, fishing, and other human-based actions. Keene’s year-long project will examine the information and determine what marine ecosystems we need to protect in the future.

Keene dedicates about nine hours per week to her campus project, leaving ample time to engage in additional extracurricular activities, particularly in light of recent events. A rise in Covid cases on campus forced Gettysburg College to “de-densify” and spread out the student population, leaving some upperclassmen outside of the residential cohort. Keene remained in town living in off-campus housing, but the College’s current policy precludes her from accessing campus or joining her team in the Bullets Pool.

Despite the setback, Keene has forged on with virtual classes, research projects for other academic departments, and leadership roles with several campus organizations and offices. She just finished up a spatial analysis project with an economics professor and she is serving as a Peer Learning Assistant (PLA) in ecology. Keene is also a Senior Career Ambassador at the Center for Career Engagement, a Global Leader at the Center for Global Education, a member of the College Life Advisory Committee, and the Secretary and Director of Programing for her sorority, Chi Omega.

“I’m trying to get as much experience as I can before getting a job,” said Keene. “Also because we’re not swimming and I’m not tied down to that rigorous schedule, I can play around to make time to be more involved, which I think is good and helps to keep me busy. It’s also really helped me with my job applications. I’ve become stronger with interviews and my resumes. I feel like I’m using my time to better myself for the future after college.”

While Keene hasn’t been able to join the freshmen in the Bullets Pool this semester, she and teammates Delaney Adams ’21Oliver Yancey ’21, and Jack Edelson ’21 have joined the Gettysburg YWCA to keep up with the training plans sent along by Head Coach Greg Brown. Many of her teammates away from Gettysburg are also keeping pace in the training department and hoping to see the Bullets Pool again in the spring.

“I think, honestly, the team is what makes it so special,” said Keene. “Everyone’s involved in different things. We all add something special to the table and I mean even the freshmen, you can just tell that they’re going to continue to make this team better and better. So I’m excited for where it goes in the future.”

No matter what transpires in the pool during the spring semester, Keene has made the most of her time at Gettysburg and taken advantage of every opportunity thrown her way over the last two years. From swimming with whale sharks to running statistical analysis on marine ecosystems, she has gained invaluable knowledge and skills that will ultimately lead well beyond the borders of campus. Keene is exploring grad school options and looking beyond to PhD programs, but ultimately she wants to find a job that matches her passion for improving the world around her.

“It’s really stemmed from my experience abroad,” said Keene. “Because I had these experiences, I understand different world views of the environment and how one solution in the United States isn’t going to work for every single country. It was that extra push I needed to just come into my own and make my Gettysburg experience everything it could be. There’s so much you can do at Gettysburg and I found my stride once I came back junior year and I’ve just carried it through.”

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This story was originally posted on the Gettysburg College Website.

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