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For the Love of the Sea

Their sheer freedom draws her to them. Adailin Lebron Bengochea thinks about the green sea turtles that swim thousands of miles – some as far as south Florida to the Massachusetts coast -- and she marvels.

“They have such freedom to swim around and be free,” said Bengochea. “They live such free lives and see so much. It’s awesome.”

Bengochea, a 24-year-old U.S. Coast Guard veteran who left Havana, Cuba for Florida when she was 6, has been fascinated with marine creatures since childhood. Now, thanks in part to a $10,000 Raytheon scholarship for military veterans, Bengochea is following her lifelong dream and pursuing a degree in marine biology.

Marine dreams

Growing up in Hialeah, Fla., Bengochea dreamed of the ocean and the creatures that lived there. It’s no coincidence that after graduating from high school she ended up in the U.S. Coast Guard.

“When I was a child I was obsessed with dolphins and whales and sea creatures,” she said. “That’s why I joined the Coast Guard, to be near the water.”

Bengochea was in the Coast Guard for four years, where she worked as a mechanic overhauling engines and doing other repairs on cutters, the light, fast boats favored by the Coast Guard to patrol coastal areas. Near the end of her service, Bengochea took a volunteer position at the New England Aquarium that solidified her interest – and her dream -- of working with sea turtles.

At the aquarium, Bengochea worked with the Marine Animal Rescue Team, which responded to seals, sea turtles and other marine animals that had been stranded on New England beaches. She helped rehabilitate injured turtles, prepared meals to speed their recovery and studied their swimming patterns.

The experience convinced Bengochea of her desire to pursue a career rehabilitating sea turtles and educating the public about them, sharing her love of the endangered species with others. She plans to pursue a PhD in marine biology and recently received a $10,000 scholarship from Raytheon. The scholarship is part of Raytheon’s support of Student Veterans of America, which provides military veterans pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) with the resources, support and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and the workforce.

Bengochea, who is now pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in marine and freshwater biology at the University of Texas, Austin, is expected to graduate in 2016. As she dives into her undergraduate courses, she says she loves the challenge of getting back up to speed, particularly in science. So much has changed, she says, even in the six or seven years since she studied the same topics in high school.

“That’s why science is so interesting. It’s constantly changing,” she said. “Science is always advancing. It’s always one step ahead of you. There’s always more to learn.”

  • Age: 24
  • From: Hialeah, Fla.
  • Active duty: U.S. Coast Guard 2008-2012
  • Studying: Marine and freshwater biology at the University of Texas, Austin
  • Future plans: A job at a rehabilitation center to rescue injured sea turtles