Dominik Sedlak-Braude ’25 — Working and Learning at Mystic Aquarium


Dominik Sedlak-Braude ’25 — Working and Learning at Mystic Aquarium

Dominik Sedlak-Braude ’25 — Working and Learning at Mystic Aquarium

As an avid surfer, Dominik Sedlak-Braude ’25 has developed a love for the ocean and a passion for preserving marine life. As he finishes up his junior year at Avon, and is beginning to think about what he might want to study in college, he has become increasingly interested in the field of marine biology. For most students across the country, there is limited opportunity to explore a subject like marine biology before attending college. For Avon students, however, there is the Advanced Independent Project (AIP) program

“I always knew I wanted to do marine bio, but I didn’t expect to do anything until college,” says Dominik. Last spring, he began wondering if an AIP could give him this experience, so he started asking other students about their various AIP experiences. “I started wondering if I could do that. When I realized I could spend my time working on something for my future, I jumped at the opportunity.” While there was no existing AIP specific to marine biology, program director Cristina Pinton reached out to Mystic Aquarium and found a way to make Dominik's dream a reality. 

This past spring, Dominik spent at least one day a week working and learning at Mystic Aquarium. Every day was something different, from assisting with the business side of aquarium operations to going out in the field with animal rescue crews. “They really push to get the animals in their exhibits from natural, sustainable means. The seals, for example, are all rescues deemed unfit to be released into the wild.”

Dominik, with his own key card and staff uniform, had full access to the aquarium, including behind-the-scenes areas like their coral preservation laboratory. “It’s cool to see all the research they do there,” Dominik says. “There’s a ton of different stuff they do there that you wouldn’t know as a visitor. I’m really interested in the reef preservation component. I’ve been asking lots of questions.” Dominik’s passion for reef preservation was sparked by a trip to Hawaii, where he was surfing in water clear enough to observe the reef below him. Now, he’s had the opportunity to see this type of work being carried out in a professional setting. 

Kelly Matis is the VP of education and conservation at the aquarium, and was Dominik's supervisor during the course of his AIP. She reflects on his time there, saying, “Throughout his internship I was impressed by his interest and dedication to marine conservation, as well as his ability to work well both independently and collaboratively. Dominik approached his tasks with professionalism and showed initiative, always displaying respect and gratitude for the experience. All staff members who worked with Dominik commented on his enthusiasm and eagerness to learn a diverse array of topics related to marine biology.”

While some days were spent shadowing different aquarium staff members, some days he was given freedom to work on his own personal project. When visiting a museum, zoo, or aquarium, it’s often the case that an employee might be stationed somewhere amongst the exhibits with a more interactive, pop-up display to further educate visitors. For his personal project, Dominik created his own traveling exhibit display detailing reef restoration. “I’ve been treating it kind of like an Avon history project. I created a bunch of visual elements to pair with it.” He then spent an afternoon stationed in the aquarium with his display, interacting with and informing guests. 

Matis was impressed with his performance in this project. “His dedication to this project was evident in the thoughtful design and execution of the display, which effectively conveyed its message to visitors. This display will continue to serve as an educational resource for other high school students to use this summer, ensuring a lasting impact.”

Dominik says his previous experience during Intersession, an AOF curriculum staple that sees students learn about a specific topic outside of the classroom for a week, helped him with this part of the project. For the last two years, the school has partnered with Mystic Aquarium for an Intersession course where students have gotten a glimpse of what Dominik has spent the spring working on. “The Intersession was great because I got the experience as a visitor—someone who, during my AIP, I was educating.”

For Dominik, his AIP experience has only reinforced his desire to one day work in marine biology, specifically reef restoration. “This AIP has been what I was hoping for. I’ve learned a lot. Being able to see hands-on what everyone does both in and outside the aquarium has been really cool.”

While Dominik’s main focus is still hockey—he was one of the youngest members of last year’s New England Championship-winning varsity team—he plans to pursue the field of marine biology at some point in the future. In fact, one of the primary people he was shadowing at the aquarium was a former collegiate hockey player who now works as the Animal Rescue Program Manager. “It was really cool to see she had a similar background. I asked her a lot about balancing the two. It’s good to learn from someone with a similar experience and background.”

After a rewarding experience, Dominik says he recommends an AIP with Mystic Aquarium to other students whether they are interested in marine life, animal studies, environmental preservation, or even business management. “I wish I could’ve spent even more time there,” he says.

Matis says she would be eager to have Dominik return for more. “Overall, Dominik was a joy to have around, and we greatly appreciated his work. We would absolutely welcome him back and would welcome any future students from Avon Old Farms.”