It may not hold the popular appeal of space travel, but the idea of exploring the dark recesses of the ocean floor, itself an alien planet, captivates Erie’s Jamie Badams.
At 20, the Mercyhurst University junior is the youngest member of the scientific team that will depart for the Gulf of Mexico northwest of Tampa on July 20 to search for submerged evidence of early Americans. The archaeology major will join his professor, Dr. James Adovasio, and Dr. C. Andrew Hemmings, chief scientists on the fourth installment of the NOAA-funded signature exploration. A number of other noted scientists and graduate students from leading U.S. academic institutions will complete the entourage assembled for this 10-day pioneering expedition.
How did a green undergraduate like Badams snare such an enviable brass ring? It wasn’t easy. He spent two years satisfying prerequisites handed down from Adovasio and, then, only with the “hope” of a place on the scientific team. There were no promises.
“He essentially told me, ‘if you can get scuba certified, do it and let me know,’” Badams recalled of their conversation his freshman year at Mercyhurst.
Did Adovasio have a clue as to Badams’ resolve? He would soon find out.
Basic scuba diving certification – check.
Advanced diving certification - check.
Nitrox certification – check.
Deep specialty certification – check.
First aid,CPR, oxygen provider certifications – the checklist seemed never-ending.
Periodically, over the next two years, Badams would ask Adovasio: “Is there anything else?” And it seemed there always was.
But for a guy who grew up sailing with his family, volunteering on the U.S. Brig Niagara, canoeing, fishing, swimming and enjoying the beach, a marine challenge was welcomed.
“I love the water and I wanted to be part of that mission and I was willing to do whatever I had to do,” he said.
It helped that he had a cheering section. His parents, Jay and Tiffany Badams, were supportive and paid for his initial scuba certification – a Christmas gift. Then, he got a job working part time at Diver’s World, which allowed him to pursue subsequent certifications.
Beyond his own determination, he admitted, “I got lucky. People really helped me out, especially the people at Diver’s World. They’ve been great.”
Finally, Adovasio uttered the words Badams had long waited to hear, “I have secured your seat on the boat.”
Admittedly, Adovasio said, he was skeptical about Badams’ ability to complete the task.
“I wasn’t concerned as much about his skill as I was his drive, persistence and self-discipline,” he said. “It takes a special person to accomplish what he has in such a short time and we are pleasantly surprised and pleased.”
Pleased particularly, Adovasio said, because every attempt has been made to keep this mission cutting-edge in terms of the science and methodological developments and “it would be self-defeating not to expose students.”
So, how does it feel to make one’s virgin science expedition traveling with some of the world’s most gifted scientists and on a mission that could very well change history’s account of the earliest human occupation of North America?
“I’ve been doing a lot of reading to prepare for what will actually be happening and my goal is to help and to learn all I can,” said Badams, who has already gotten a number of deep dives under his belt while visiting his grandmother, Judi Badams, in Florida.
Most of all, he said he is grateful to Adovasio for the chance to get in on a gig that could well change his own future.