A welcome ascent

Long gone are Physical Activity Course Program (PAC) instructor Cressey Merrill’s days of traveling to Eugene and then hauling his student’s equipment in the bed of his pickup truck for the trip back to OSU

scuba locker
Cressey walks to the pool deck from the new Academic and Recreational Dive Center

Long gone are Physical Activity Course (PAC) Program instructor Cressey Merrill’s days of traveling to Eugene and then hauling his student’s equipment in the bed of his pickup truck for the trip back to OSU.

Thanks to a partnership and support by the College of Public Health and Human Sciences (CPHHS) and the Research Office, the OSU Academic and Recreational Dive Center (ARDC) officially opens on October 14, 2016, with an open house.

PAC, part of the CPHHS, funded the construction and renovation of the center, and secured additional funding for new equipment. The Research Office funded the compressor and fill stations. Both programs share the equipment and the space, creating a valuable collaboration.

Take a walk through the dive center and you’ll see how things have come full circle for instructors and their students. Students meet their instructor on the pool deck and then walk through one of the locker’s doors to grab their regulator and buoyancy control device. They then walk into an adjacent room to get their tank and meet back on the pool deck.

Submerging into research

PAC scuba courses are a prerequisite for anyone interested in conducting scientific research. They can also be taken by any student interested in becoming a certified scuba diver. The certification process involves an academic, pool and open water section. An average of 250 students take a scuba class each year.

OSU is one of three scientific diving facilities in Oregon recognized by the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) and is leading the way in preparing students for careers involving scientific diving. Diving at OSU has experienced substantial growth over recent years, and Diving and Small Boat Safety Officer Kevin Buch says the timing of the new dive center is perfect.

OSU annually reports research dives and scientific diver training activity to AAUS. In 2015, the OSU scientific diving program:

  • Completed a total number of 1,912 dives
  • Had 61 divers logging dives
  • Had 1,590 hours of bottom time

“We are extremely grateful to receive this funding to invest in Oregon’s next generation of recreational and scientific divers,” Kevin says.

He adds that the new dive center will allow OSU to adequately train and prepare more scientific diving students, will be better able to support research diving activities, and will be better placed to handle the growth associated with the new Marine Studies Initiative.

“Scientific diving starts first with preparation and training,” he says. “Having our own equipment and fill stations allows there to be more of an emphasis on training. There used to be many moving parts, and now the experience is centralized.”

A new era

Instead of juggling equipment, Cressey can now focus on teaching. He used to go home after class to rinse wetsuits. Now, he uses the hoses at the pool and hangs them to dry in the locker. He used to fill tanks with an air compressor that caused his electric bill to soar. Now, he fills them quickly with ease on the fill panel.

He says the best part of the new scuba facility is that his students receive more instructional time.

The new dive center also provides students with comfort and familiarity, a vital component when scuba diving.

“Comfort level is so important; we’re not just making do anymore” Cressey says. “When I take a student from the pool to the open water, there’s going to be some level of anxiety. If I change their gear, I’ve added a level of anxiety. I can now say, ‘This is your suit and regulator you dove with in the pool,’ and it reduces anxiety because they know the suit will fit and they trust the equipment.”

Safety is now in the hands of the instructors, and equipment can be serviced quickly. Cressey says that owning the equipment permits instructors to service the equipment if deemed unsafe. Previously, without legal right to the equipment, it had to be serviced through a third party at designated times.

The new equipment will certify hundreds of divers each year, either for recreation or to conduct scientific research. Cressey has taught students planning to go into marine biology and zoology, those who love the ocean and are interested in diving for fun ­– and even those who are afraid of the water or can’t swim.

“The most important element of scuba diving is a sense of adventure,” he says. “You can have fears and hesitations and I’ll do my best to help you work through those. But if you don’t have that sense of adventure and excitement, it’s not going to work.”

After 18 years of instructing students, Cressey says the most satisfying part of his job is witnessing a student who was hesitant come out from a dive ecstatic.