College of Education > News and Publications > News: October - December 2013 > Graduate Student Swims with Manta Rays

Graduate Student Swims with Manta Rays

Carmen Strand, a graduate student in the learning, design, and technology master’s program, cleared her mind of her stressful work schedule by swimming with manta rays in Hawaii this summer. While celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary, she and her husband took part in what Strand called one of the best night dives in the world.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Carmen Strand, a graduate student in the learning, design, and technology master’s program, cleared her mind of her stressful work schedule by swimming with manta rays in Hawaii this summer. While celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary, she and her husband took part in what Strand called one of the best night dives in the world.Carmen Strand and husband swimming with a manta ray

“The idea is that you go to the dive site in the evening, just before sunset,” said Strand. “There are snorkelers who stay on the surface around a surf-board like device with a light that shines down through the water. The SCUBA divers all go down with flashlights to an underwater arena-type area and everyone shines their flashlights into the same area to attract plankton, and the plankton attract the manta rays. This area is reminiscent of an underwater campfire with all of the light. Then the manta rays start to come in, and you never know how many will show up. The previous night there had been three. However, the night we dived, we counted 20!”

Carmen Strand and her husband pose on a beach in Hawaii“The most incredible part of this experience was looking at the manta rays and seeing an intelligent eye looking back and interacting with me under the water,” said Strand.

The manta rays, which are about 15 feet across, intelligent, playful and curious, accompanied the divers all the way back to the boat, seemingly wanting them to stay, according to Strand.

“It was a real thrill of a lifetime to be in such close proximity to such magnificent animals,” Strand said. “I dream about being able to do it again.”

Strand has been diving since 2004 and is now an advanced Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) SCUBA diver. She said SCUBA is like meditation to her, which is very important to her mental health.

“When the water is clear, and you’re Carmen Strand and her husband swimming with a massive manta rayapproaching the edge of an underwater cliff you get the sensation of being able to fly,” said Strand.

SCUBA impacts Strand’s program studies and future in an unexpected way.

“There’s a tendency to become mentally exhausted with this kind of a work schedule,” said Strand. “I need a way to clear my mind and relax, which contributes positively to my program of studies when I can come back to it with new eyes, a clear head and a renewed level of energy.”

In addition to being a student in the College, Strand is a program specialist in the Smeal College of Business.

-by Samantha Schwartz (November 2013)