We Are the Class of 2020 Telling our story, one graduate at a time.

Kama Cannon in scuba gear with friends in scuba gear

May 1, 2020

Hurricane Irma ripped almost everything away from Kama Cannon ’08, ’11M, ’20Ed.D, but it left her with a clear vision of who she is and how she wants to live her life. And it taught her that it’s possible to start over.  

Cannon, who will earn her Ed.D. from UNCW this spring, moved in 2016 from Wilmington to the Florida Keys to work with a group of elementary, middle and high school girls and to serve as an adjunct faculty member for the College of the Florida Keys. She also started a nonprofit educational organization, DiveN2Life, which made use of both her scientific SCUBA diver certification and her experience as a teacher to create STEM enrichment experiences for children and teens.  

“A few days before the fall 2017 term was scheduled to begin, Hurricane Irma made landfall on the island where I had been living,” she said. “The home I was renting was struck by a tornado, a complete loss.”

She considered coming home to North Carolina, “but I realized there was a group of students, both new and returning, waiting anxiously to begin their STEM enrichment program. I just could not leave them.” 

“And so, my husband, Richard, and I returned to pick up the pieces in Florida a few weeks after the storm. I moved nine times in one year, but it was relatively easy because we owned very little to pack and move at that point.

“What was not easy was sleeping and feeling like I would be OK that year. I had to learn to feel safe again. I lost everything in that storm, except for a handful of outfits and books I had carried with me when we evacuated. But Irma taught me that no matter what I thought I had lost, and no matter how difficult it was for me to begin again, I did it. And, I can continue to do it and accomplish anything else I choose to pursue in my life.”

Cannon pushed on with her doctoral work through UNCW despite her losses, and she thanks the WCE faculty for helping and encouraging her along the way. A believer in lifelong learning, she also is conducting doctoral-level research in coral reef ecology at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

“Irma taught me something else,” Cannon said: “Nothing we own matters as much as our relationships and experiences with family, friends, colleagues, mentors and our students. Nothing else.” 

Even before pursuing a professional teaching career, Cannon homeschooled her children. She returned to UNCW to complete her undergraduate degree and to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching. With her doctoral degree completed, she now hopes to be invited to become a full-time faculty member at a university.

-- Tricia Vance  




Cannon, second from left, is pictured with fellow SCUBA divers.