SANTA BARBARA — Caroline Roy has plans, and she won't let a little thing like life-threatening illness get in her way. The 17-year-old high school student from Baton Rouge, La., wants to study marine biology, and after much research decided the place where she wants to do it is UC Santa Barbara.

Despite a diagnosis of recurrent pleomorphic adenomas — cancer of the salivary gland — when she was 11 years old, and three surgeries to address subsequent recurrences, Caroline is determined to pursue her dream of becoming a scientist.

Yesterday (June 14), she and her family — parents Karen and Phillip, and younger brothers Austin and Joseph — spent the day at UC Santa Barbara touring the campus's Marine Science Institute (MSI), meeting with marine biologists and learning about the diverse research being conducted in the Department of Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology. Their visit also included tours of three research laboratories in the Marine Science Building, and stops at Campus Point and MSI's Research Experience and Education Facility (REEF).

Caroline's trip to UC Santa Barbara was made possible by Dreams Come True of Louisiana, Inc., a nonprofit organization that fulfills dreams for children with life-threatening illnesses. Following a welcome by Mark Brzezinski, MSI director, and Dan Reed, a research biologist and MSI deputy director, Caroline and her family learned about three areas of research at MSI. Andy Brooks, an associate project scientist, discussed the Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research project; Shannon Harrer, a research associate, discussed the Santa Barbara coastal Long Term Ecological Research project; and Gretchen Hofmann, professor of Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology, gave a presentation on her laboratory group's focus on the ecological physiology of marine organisms, particularly invertebrates.  

"If they'll have me, I want to come here," Caroline said during her visit to UC Santa Barbara. "I thought we'd have a campus tour, but I never expected people to invite us into their labs and spend so much time with us and show us so many things."

The significance of the experience was not lost on Caroline's mother. "She was just glowing when anyone was speaking to her," Karen Roy said. "The university's been amazing with everything they've done for us. With tragedy come huge blessings, and that's what she's experiencing here."

Discussing Caroline's visit to UC Santa Barbara, Brzezinski said: "This was something we really wanted to do. To do anything less wouldn't be fulfilling a dream." He noted that his goal was to give Caroline a broad overview of marine biology and emphasize the ways UC Santa Barbara involves undergraduates in research. "We wanted to stress the importance of attending a research university."

At Campus Point, the family played on the beach and met with Marine Science Institute researcher Jenny Dugan, who shared her research on coastal marine ecology and conservation. Their visit concluded with a tour of MSI's REEF interactive aquarium with REEF director Scott Simon.

The family's trip to Santa Barbara also includes a whale watching expedition today (June 15), courtesy of Sea Landing and Condor Express at the Santa Barbara Harbor.