Swimming among giant sea turtles and schools of fish in the depths of the ocean is probably not the first activity that comes to mind while living in Arizona.
However, members of Outdoor Recreation at the University of Arizona have made it their mission to get students involved with the natural world, as part of scuba diving on and off campus.
The UA's scuba class, instructed by Mark Edwards, teaches participants essential diving skills — such as how to breathe underwater comfortably, how to respond to out-of-air situations or how to share air with other people if they are running low — in the Student Recreation Center's Olympic-size pool.
"Here students have the perfect opportunity to understand whether they like scuba or not," Edwards said.
Students also learn skills applicable to everyday situations.
"Mostly when you get in trouble in the water or you get in a real-life situation where it might be stressful, you need to stop, think and breathe," Edwards said.
And through a new partnership with Biosphere 2, students can now complete their certification dive in the saltwater simulated reef pool within the UA facility, just north of Tucson. One student, Matthew C. Buster, was able to channel his interests in science, scuba and photography there.
"Most students don't even realize that the Biosphere exists and many don't get a chance to get out there, so we're partnering up to send some of the students to take their certification dives there," said Andrew Huff, assistant director of Outdoor Recreation.
"It's a great resource and it's something that distinguishes Arizona from other universities. Students should be able to experience it — it's certainly unique to the scuba program."
Also new this summer, and with future trips to Mexico planned for dives, students will be able to dive in Lake Pleasant near Phoenix or New Mexico's Blue Hole, a large crater.
Students normally complete their open-water certification dive in Mexico with Edwards through Desert Divers, a dive store where he teaches. Now, with the addition of Biosphere 2 and the new off-campus locations, students have the flexibility to complete their open-water certification dive less than an hour from the Student Recreation Center where they complete the classes.
Also unlike other programs, which sometimes charge hundreds of dollars for equipment, UA scuba students are provided with all of the equipment essential to diving and completion of the course.
The program is adaptable and open to students of all skill levels and abilities, including students in wheelchairs, and it helps students complete a Scuba Schools International certification, which is a boon for those looking to complement their UA science courses.
"Aside from why it's offered, I think scuba diving is also a very relaxing time," Huff said. "Whether you are a student here who has a ton on their plate or a faculty member dealing with a lot of work, the beauty of scuba is once you are 30 feet below, you can't hear anyone talk.
"It's also a really unique opportunity," he said. "You can find scuba programs at other rec centers across the country, but we have a really unique spin on it — especially with our partnerships and ability to visit unique dive locations."