At the bottom of one of the McCoy Natatorium pools, 12 students swim along, breathing in oxygen to survive.
The students are in the class Kinesiology 045: NAUI Basic Scuba and they are learning how to scuba dive.
According to Penn State’s Schedule of Courses, Kinesiology 045 “introduces students to the fundamental academic concepts and practical skills of scuba diving as described by [the National Association of Underwater Instructors] standards.”
Craig Brown, Penn State diving coach and one of the Kinesiology 045 instructors, said students experience “the conditioning element and gain a thorough background on how [they] can survive underwater.”
Brown has been teaching Kinesiology 045 at Penn State for 24 years and has been coaching the diving team since 1986, he said.
“Students learn how to apply science and understand chemistry in a recreational setting,” Brown said. “They learn how everything works in a real sense and it is enjoyable for students.”
Paul Rentschler, an instructor for the Kinesiology 093 class that travels to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, said students in both classes “learn all aspects of how to be safe,” including the “physics of what is happening to their body and water skills needed.”
However, students in the classes can gain more than just the required credits to fulfill their General Health and Physical Activity, Brown said.
“It is a meaningful experience to students to see a mundane looking aquatic environment have a flourishing ecosystem,” Brown said.
Brown said even though 3/4 of the planet is underwater, very few humans get to experience scuba diving.
Rentschler said “introducing people to the underwater world that exists” has made an impact on his life.
Rentschler originally was introduced to scuba diving when he first joined the Penn State scuba club back when he was a student. Since then he has been certified for 16 years and has been instructing students at Penn State for 10 years, he said.
“It’s really defined my life,” Rentschler said.
For students currently in the class, they put on about 50 pounds of gear when they dive, but are still able to “hover perfectly still in the water,” Brown said.
Jenny O’Reilly (senior-media studies) said that as a student in the class, she was able to experience what scuba diving is actually like.
O’Reilly said she took the class because her family vacations in the Caribbean and she wanted to get certified and “just jump right in.”
“It’s one of my favorite classes, and it’s nice to take a break from my 400 level classes,” O’Reilly said.
With one day of lecture and one day in the pool, O’Reilly said “the lectures are really interesting, and [Brown] really prepares us for everything that can put us in danger.”
“People may think it is easy, but it is a lot of work and you need to be in class to have all of the information,” O’Reilly said.
In order to travel to St. Lucia during the spring semester, a trip where students can get both their basic and advanced certification, students need at least a B in Kinesiology 045. During the eight-day trip, students complete 12 dives.
St. Lucia is a small island in the Caribbean near the island of Barbados.
Rentschler said the trip to St. Lucia is the “combination of scuba education with the unique experience of being immersed in a foreign culture.”
Rentschler said students learn to plan and conduct dives in the open ocean.
One dive, a night dive, is “intimidating at first but is typically the students’ favorite dive,” Rentschler said.
Brown said during the first site visit to St. Lucia, “a school of about 100 squid swam around me, through my legs and arms as I was motionless in the water.”