BATH — Marija Medenica combined two of her loves – sea life and architecture – to design a new haven for Gulf of Maine seals in need of rescue and rehabilitation.

And she did it for her Capstone project at Morse High School, where she’ll graduate June 9 with the Class of 2019.

Medenica grew up in Serbia, a landlocked nation where watching the TV adventures of the late Steve Irwin fostered her love of animals and conservation. She moved to Phippsburg, her mother’s home town, just in time to begin freshman year at Morse; during summers here she learned enjoyed time by the ocean and visiting aquariums.

“Moving here at first was hard,” due to leaving family, friends, her school, and the lack of Serbian food, she said May 2. “But I’m really glad I moved, and I think that it’s brought a lot to my life.”

She had her mother’s family here, too, and was optimistic about a fresh start.

“I was excited about a new beginning because I’ve always been outgoing and wanting to try new things, and push myself to do better,” Medenica said. “And I think that it shaped me as a person and it helped bring me to where I am now.”

Having attended an international school in Belgrade, Serbia, she was introduced at a young age to a variety of cultures, languages and traditions from around the world. That prepared her well for a new life in America.

Medenica maintains strong connections to her native country, returning each summer and taking assignments from one of her Serbian teachers each weekend via Skype. That teacher keeps in touch with Medenica’s guidance counselor, and although the course is an independent study outside of school, it counts as a language credit.

“My parents definitely wanted my brothers and I to continue with the Serbian when we moved here,” she said. “… It’s a good balance that we moved here and get to go back there.”

Picking up STEAM

If starting high school in a relatively new country wasn’t challenging enough, Medenica upped the ante even more by becoming one of Morse’s first STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) students. The rigorous, self-led, extracurricular three-year program began with about 20 students, of whom she is one of only four remaining.

She gave her final STEAM presentation and received her STEAM diploma late last month, and was gratified by the attention her project received.

In conceiving an endeavor into which she could pour her energy over the next few years, Medenica set her sights on Marine Mammals of Maine, a Bath-based organization with a seal triage center in Harpswell. She met with Executive Director Lynda Doughty, who grew up with Medenica’s mother in Phippsburg, and learned the organization needed a larger space to provide better quality care for more seals.

So that’s what Medenica set out to accomplish. The full scope of her project, including 3D conceptions of a two-story space for MMOM, can be found at sites.google.com/view/steamcapstone2019marijam. More information is also available at mmome.org.

“I’ve learned a lot; I’ve done … countless hours of research after school,” outside of work and playing soccer, basketball and lacrosse, she said.

Doughty “takes great care of the seals that she rescues, and she does so much work,” Medenica said. “I just look up to her as an individual.”

Doughty, who relies on government funding for her work, aims to upgrade her facility to accommodate more seals.

“That’s why I designed this for her,” Medenica said, noting that the potential center, about three times larger, would cost more than Doughty has.

Not surprisingly, money is the major barrier in building the expanded facility. Doughy didn’t have an estimate of how expensive it would be to build but noted it can cost between $6,000 to $7,000 to rehabilitate and later release just one sick or traumatized seal.

Distemper has been a major sickness among seals along the Gulf of Maine, Medenica said. Doughty has room for only four seals, but the center her young friend designed could house 14-16.

“They had a few die on them this year and a few survive,” Medenica noted. “Definitely with a bigger place, they can save more.”

“I’ve been meeting with her since my junior year, and we talked about what she would want in it, how big she would want it,” Medenica said.

The teenager then drew her own blueprints by hand, and her businessman father connected her with an architect and interior designer with whom he had worked. He helped her create a 3D model of her vision.

On top of that, Medenica built a physical model of the building that can be taken apart like a puzzle. It is intricately labeled with the many elements the center would have, such as a conference room, staff sleeping quarters, a giant room to house the animals, a quarantine area, X-ray and necropsy rooms, and a youth education center.

“I think that kids, especially in Maine, since we’re right on the water … really need to be educated about the oceans,” and about “how important it is to take care of the waters we have,” said Medenica, who plans to study marine science at the University of Maine at Orono.

If she could go back in time and offer advice to herself when she was a freshman,  Medenica would recommend staying open-minded and know that everything falls into place.

“Work hard,” she said, “because all the hard work you put in, even as a freshman, will pay off by your senior year.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Marija Medenica, who moved to Phippsburg from Serbia, graduates next month from Morse High School in Bath. She is one of four students to have completed the school’s inaugural science, technology, engineering, arts, and math program.

Morse High senior Marija Medenica shows off a model she designed and built, with removable sections, of an expanded seal triage center for Marine Mammals of Maine.


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