Jim Fogleman, a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Denver and scuba instructor at A-1 Scuba & Travel Aquatics Center, has long been involved in biology and the sciences. His passion for scuba diving and teaching goes hand-in-hand with his knowledge of the ocean and coral reef ecology.
Fogleman’s collegiate education started in 1968, receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of New Mexico, then a master’s degree in Zoology from Colorado State University, and finally a doctorate in genetics from Cornell University. He took this knowledge and became an Assistant Professor at the University of Denver in 1983, working his way up to an Associate Professor, Professor and then Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, before relinquishing that position in 2007.
Now, Fogleman balances his time between teaching biology and genetics classes during the fall and winter quarters at the University of Denver and instructing eager learners how to scuba dive. He managed to squeeze me into his busy schedule for a Skype interview on May 17.
As Fogleman’s main profession is not scuba instruction, it is worth noticing that instructors often have a primary job to support themselves before they can indulge in their passion for scuba. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time recreational instructors of activities such as scuba make, on average, $35,940 annually.
Fogleman stated, “to get right down to it, I don’t think you can make a living off of being an instructor unless you are young and willing to live on just a minimal type salary. So the instructors you see in dive shops, that are in locations like Cozumel or dive locations, and they go out on the boats, and they lead dives, and they also do instruction, their major jobs aren’t actually to lead dives.”
The lack of pay leads to instructors coming from many backgrounds and ages. Instructors range from those who have already retired from their main jobs and want to keep busy, all the way to the younger, adventurous type that wants to travel the world and follow their passion for diving.
Scuba instructors’ passions for diving are what make them take up the side occupation. Becoming a dive instructor takes years of experience, and you must pass multiple precursory certifications, such as Divemaster, Rescue Diver and Advanced Scuba Diver, before you can even be qualified to attend class. Also, the price is costly, especially for those located in landlocked states, as an applicant must have at least 60 logged dives and 100 dives total before being able to apply.
Fogleman reiterated the passion of instructors, stating, “the people who work at those shops do it for several reasons – one is that they like it. To get to be an instructor is actually quite an involved process, and it’s actually fairly expensive to pay for all the training to become an instructor. And once you’ve done that, the reward is teaching other people to scuba dive, your passion about scuba diving. It’s a reward in that perspective.”
Although scuba diving might seem easy and all fun, it is often difficult to learn the skills needed to become certified. There are many dangers to diving, including harmful effects such as decompression sickness, nitrogen narcosis, and oxygen toxicity. Due to this, instructors must spend a lot of time being taught how to teach in order to impart skills correctly. The ability an instructor has on stressing safety and certain protocols can save a diver’s life, and help that diver save others.
“It’s not just that you’re a good scuba diver, thats not what being an instructor is all about. Being an instructor is being not only a good scuba diver, but learning how to teach other people to be good scuba divers,” Fogleman said. “Theres a lot to learn with respect how to teach, how to demonstrate the skills, and how to be confident that when they’re finished with your class you know their going to go out and be a safe scuba diver.”
Fogleman also notes that it’s important to be an emotional support for the diver, as becoming initially certified is especially trying. The skills learned and taught are often alien to the students. If the scuba instructor cannot be there to calm them down, some parts of the lessons can be dangerous to the student if they panic.
“Our job is to not only teach them this, calm them down and let them know we’re going to be there with them every step of the way. We’re going to make it really easy, that we’re going to tell them what we’re going to do, we’re going to show them how to do it, and then let them show us that they can,” Fogleman stated.
As a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Denver, Fogleman continues to stress the importance of caring for the ocean and the environment. He sometimes teaches a special class, Coral Reef Ecology or Ecology 3044, where he teaches students specifically about reefs and the ocean. Ten students from that class then gets to go to on a scuba diving trip over the course of a week, exploring reefs and performing tests.
Fogleman explained his reasons for the class, stating, “because I’m so passionate about scuba diving, and I got into being an instructor, and then I started noticing all the things that are impacting the coral reef. What could I do as a professor?”
As a biology and sciences professor, Fogleman believes that his job is to impart knowledge on coral reefs, combining both his expertise in biology as well as diving.
“I see my role in this as education. The solution is going to be your generation. If I can impart some of the knowledge that i’ve gained about coral reefs and how they work and what are some of the causes for coral decline. That sort of knowledge is what your generation will need in order to change the point of view. And thats the start.”
Jim Fogleman continues to impact his students in both diving and biology by teaching them the importance of coral reefs and conserving the ocean.