Devan Gann doesn't believe in wasting time.
The energetic 17-year-old Soddy-Daisy High School senior is on a mission. She is meticulously charting a course to get her exactly where she wants to be: a marine biologist who helps to save oceans.
She kick-started her mission by taking part in the prestigious Ocean for Life youth program last July. The 2011 field study Devan participated in was held in Santa Barbara, Calif., and on Santa Cruz Island, hosted by Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
According to oceanforlife.org, Ocean for Life fosters cultural understanding through the study of the ocean ecosystem.
"All life in the ocean is connected, and in the same way our human cultures are all connected," the website said. "The goal of Ocean for Life is to bring better understanding of the diverse marine world and of the diverse peoples of the world. Our lives depend on close connections to the ocean and on the close connections that link us all."
Twenty-eight high school students from Western and Greater Middle Eastern countries were selected to participate.
"When they return to their home communities, the participants are encouraged to use their experience to become better stewards of their local environment, promote its connection to the ocean and strengthen the links they have built to the communities and cultures of their fellow participants," according to the website.
Q: How did participating in Ocean for Life effect you?
A: The best part was meeting all the amazing people. I loved working with the photographers and filmmakers. I loved teaching other people what we learned about the ocean and how to protect it. We worked and learned together, but we also went on adventures and got to be close friends.
All of the experience was amazing. A few moments that stick out particularly in my mind are when all of us went out on the beach for a sunset photo shoot with our media camp leaders, the beach cleanup we got to do with some local students and the time I fell out of a kayak in the ocean with my friend from Egypt.
Q: Are you involved in extracurricular activities?
A: I work as a hostess at a restaurant and as a cashier at a grocery store. I participate in forensic competitions, theater, United Nations Coalition for Unity and Democracy, volunteer at Tennessee Aquarium and, so far, have completed nearly 250 hours of community service.
Q: Why do you want a career as a marine biologist?
A: I'm very interested in the ocean and conservation, in general. But, to me, the ocean is a really big issue. That's why I volunteer at the Aquarium. The Aquarium is one of the few opportunities in the area to get involved and learn about the ocean. I want to work at a job that allows me to make a difference in the world. I need to leave something good behind. Even if for some reason I don't get to be a marine biologist, I want to do something involving conservation, something that helps protect the environment, the ocean and the world.
Q: Have you spent much time at the ocean?
A: No. When I was a little girl, I went to the ocean for the first time, and I loved it. It's a part of the world that has always interested me. It's a different world.
- Age: 17.
- Family: Parents Beverly Shannon and Rickey Dean; sisters Libby Gann and Maddi Gann.
- Pets: Dogs Izzy and Sunshine and goat Leonard.
- Favorite movies: "The Cove," "Moulin Rouge."
- Favorite music: "It changes."
- Something people don't know about you: "My friends say I'm smart and a hard worker, but a lot of times I don't feel smart."
Q: How did you get involved with the Ocean for Life program?
A: A teacher posted a sign outside the classroom door about the program. I was interested in it, so I sent in an application. I had to write five essays. I learned that a few students involved in the program were on a plane that went down in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In honor of those students, they wanted to make the program bigger by bringing together kids from America and kids from the Middle East in an effort to get rid of the stigma and to promote cultural understandings through friendship and peace.
Q: What did you learn about the students from the Middle East?
A: I was a little reserved, at first, because I wasn't sure how they felt about us, but I know that we all came with open minds, which is what the program is about. We learned that we all had a lot in common. Our pop cultures are a lot alike. We listen to a lot of the same music. But our attitudes differed a little bit. One of the best friends I made was a guy from Egypt. He was very respectful and mature.
Q: What did you learn about the ocean?
A: We participated in beach cleanups and monitored the water by testing the pH levels. We learned a lot about marine debris -- the trash in the ocean. I knew it was a problem but not to the extent of what it is. We watched a video about an island where nobody goes, and it showed all the debris that was washed up on the beaches. There was plastic everywhere. Plastic never goes away. Even when it starts to degrade, it goes places. The fish eat it, and we eat the fish. There's also tiny particles of plastic in the sand.
Q: Where do you hope to be 10 years from now?
A: I hope to have finished college at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, where they have an excellent marine biology program. Then I hope to get a doctorate. I want to be discovering new things about the ocean. There's so much we don't know. I either want to be a conservationist or a researcher or both.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...