“The feeling of just floating and all you can hear is the white noise of the bubbles. It forces you to be in the moment.”

Michael Nappier, clinical associate professor in Small Animal Clinical Sciences and scuba instructor, brings the joy of scuba diving to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine community. The ScubaCat Project, as his educational program is affectionately known, offers an exciting opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to explore the world beneath the water’s surface. 

Diving into Passion

From coral reefs to shipwrecks to underwater caves, Nappier has been diving around the world since he became certified as an undergraduate student at Ohio State. For him, scuba diving is more than just a hobby -- it's a passion he wants to share with others. 

 "This is something that I use as a personal health and wellness activity and something that I love,” he said. “What better thing could I do than to share that with students, faculty, and staff of the college?" 

Along with leading ScubaCat, he is the current faculty advisor for the Scuba Club at Virginia Tech, which is possibly one of the oldest collegiate scuba organizations in the country, dating back to the 1960s. 

A Swimmingly Good Educational Opportunity

ScubaCat offers courses at cost for students, faculty, and staff of the college. The only prerequisite is the ability to pass a 200-yard swim test and a 10-minute float. After that, it’s diving practices, online coursework, and an open-water weekend akin to a final exam. 

This year, two second-year veterinary students, took the plunge and signed up for the open water course: Alison Lynch and Danielle Kila.

Lynch had never been diving before but loved all things water. “At the interest meeting Dr. Nappier held, I realized just how big the scuba community is here in Blacksburg, which I never would have guessed,” she said.

“After hearing that ScubaCat was offered to us as students, I immediately knew I wanted to join,” added Kila. She was captivated by St. Martin's coral reefs and made it her goal to get a scuba certification to match her sister. “I'd been looking for more freedom, which required in-depth knowledge about scuba diving so that Kathleen and I could be dive buddies in the future!”

Open Water Weekend at Gray Quarry 

Gray Quarry, located just two hours from the college in the mountains of Tennessee, is the perfect setting for the open-water certification tests. It's a scuba diving site created by converting an old rock quarry into a diver's paradise, stocked with various underwater attractions, including sunken boats, an airplane, a fire truck, a bus, and even some fish. The controlled conditions make it an excellent place for students to train and gain confidence in their scuba skills. 

 "When we got to the quarry, it was almost like a mini vacation. No stress. Just scuba. Feeling the weightlessness and quiet of being underwater was truly magical, and I can see why people love it,” said Lynch.

During the open-water weekend, the students were required to complete four dives over two days and demonstrate several basic scuba skills to earn their first-level certification.

"To depend on my scuba buddy, Alison, as my safeguard, rather than Dr. Nappier as our dive instructor, made the Gray Quarry dives feel different from my previous experiences diving,” said Kila. “At that point, I knew I had gained the knowledge and skills needed to dive safely with the freedom I had been looking for."   

Diving Beyond Veterinary School

ScubaCat not only provides an opportunity to learn a new skill but also offers a break from the rigorous demands of veterinary school. 

"I remember what it was like as a vet student—it's stressful and tough," Nappier said. “Scuba was for me something that reminded me that there’s a world outside of that school. It's almost kind of meditative for me." 

“It may sound strange, but the online course was an enjoyable study break from studying vet med material,” said Kila.  “But, also, so much of the information closely related to the anesthesia concepts I was learning simultaneously in Breathing and Circulating—in a good way.”

Swim with the ScubaCats

Newly certified Lynch and Kila highly encourage others to dive in. “Experiencing underwater life in its natural environment is one of the most incredible things to witness,” said Kila. “The sights, sounds, and feel of the water are more amazing than anything you could imagine.”

Lynch added: "If you are even thinking about it, do it! Dr. Nappier and the Scuba Club typically hold a Discover Scuba Day over at the Blacksburg Aquatic Center, which was a great way to try it out if you don't want to commit to the full program.”

To learn more about the ScubaCat Project, members of the College of Veterinary Medicine can reach out to Nappier.  Other members of the University and surrounding communities can join the Scuba Club at Virginia Tech.

Written by Margie Christianson, communications manager at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine


Andrew Mann
Director of Communications and Marketing