Announcing 2023 Ocean Exploration Education Grants to Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

NOAA Ocean Exploration and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation  have awarded 12 grants to help engage and inspire the next generation of ocean explorers by supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) efforts related to ocean literacy and workforce development.

Students engaged in ocean education activities.

Students engaged in ocean education activities. Images courtesy of Shannon McDonnell, Hōkūokahalelani Pihana, Rose Santana, and Emily McAfee.

The DEIA Ocean Exploration Education Grants first launched in 2021 with the goal of advancing ocean exploration learning opportunities by investing in projects and partners that support the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) workforce development pipeline and engage diverse learners from communities that have been historically underserved and underrepresented in ocean science and exploration. These grants are for use by educators and/or education program implementers working at the intersection of STEAM education and DEIA to support the workforce development pipeline where barriers are most prohibitive to recruitment and retention of diverse learners.

This year, a total of 12 DEIA Ocean Exploration Education Grants were awarded. Nine grantees were each awarded up to $20,000 to fund their projects. Additionally, three grantees from the 2021 funded projects were awarded an additional $7,500 to continue and expand project efforts from the previous year. All projects will take place throughout Spring/Summer 2023. Learn more about projects are described below.

Ocean Exploration Education Grant Awardees

New Projects:

Applied Education Foundation  (Washington)
In 2022, the Sea Dragons team of student underwater roboticists applied STEM skills beyond the MATE ROV Competition to recover derelict crab pots using their remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in partnership with the Jefferson County Marine Resources Committee (JCMRC). Now, their Student-led Derelict Crab Pot Removal DEIA Workshop and Fieldwork will build on their previous work by exciting and engaging youth on the Olympic Peninsula (Washington) to participate in the MATE ROV Competition and support them in becoming ocean stewards through crab pot recovery fieldwork. In partnership with Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, these experiences will enable students from coastal communities and the Coastal Treaty Tribes of the Olympic Coast to expand their science and engineering skills through community-driven conservation projects.

Boys & Girls Club of the Gulf Coast  (Mississippi)
Mississippi is home to the third-highest concentration of Blue Economy jobs in the country, but has challenges filling positions from in-state talent, especially from minority populations. The Ultimate Maritime Journey focuses on utilizing ocean literacy to prepare youth to fill positions within the Mississippi Gulf Coast Blue Economy workforce. The project is a collaboration between Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast and GenSea, a program through The University of Southern Mississippi aimed to combat brain drain in Mississippi by introducing the vast array of local STEM career opportunities. The project will provide 30 high schoolers from underserved communities the opportunity to learn through after-school activities, hands-on experiential field trips, and resources from NOAA.

Centro Criollo de Ciencia y Tecnología del Caribe, Inc (C3Tec)  (Puerto Rico)
Roughly 75% of the Caguas Region, Puerto Rico, lives below poverty levels, largely as the result of a multi-generational lack of opportunity or access to high quality education. The Encounters with Marine Sciences project will engage 350 middle and high school students in project-based learning opportunities and practical experiences aligned with ocean literacy principles, with an emphasis on increasing knowledge of basic marine ecological concepts and ocean literacy principles and promoting conservation efforts around the coastal communities of Puerto Rico. Additionally, the project will provide training to 150 middle and high school educators on how to carry these opportunities forward in their schools, using NOAA educational resources.

Horizon Science Academy Columbus High School  (Ohio)
The Urban Citizen Scientists Support Preservation of Costa Rican Marine Ecosystem project will support 6 minority students and 2 teachers from Columbus, Ohio, in a 10-day immersive experience in Gulfo Dulce, Costa Rica. Together, students and teachers will conduct research on marine mammals and predators during the in-field experience. In addition to fostering a greater understanding of ocean literacy through performance of hands-on research to understand and protect marine ecosystems, the project aims to simultaneously enlighten students about sustainable marine science programs and develop greater consciousness of future career options.

MidMichigan College  (Michigan)
Located far from the coast, MidMichigan College students have limited exposure to the ocean and therefore do not see connections between their actions and the ocean. Geographic, educational, and financial barriers also challenge students from viewing careers in marine science as options. The MidMichigan College Ocean Literacy Fellowship Experience in Belize project will support an introductory course in marine science that includes an in-field, experiential learning opportunity in Belize to increase students’ ocean literacy and awareness of ocean careers. The project culminates with an outreach project where students will share their research and field experiences with a local community group to expand the reach and impact of this project to a larger audience.

New York State Marine Education Association  (New York)
The New York State Marine Education Association supports ocean educators across New York with a mission to advance understanding of the marine environment. The Exploring New York Waters project will engage New York middle and high school students from underserved communities in a series of ocean science/exploration activities focused on increasing students’ connections to the ocean, ocean literacy, and awareness of ocean science technologies, as well as, increase their belief that the ocean is relevant to them and their community. The multi-part project features teacher training on NOAA and other ocean exploration classroom resources, webinars for teachers and students to engage with ocean scientists and explorers, and a stewardship, monitoring, exploration-themed field event.

Oregon State University | Oregon Sea Grant  (Oregon)
The Illuminating STEAM Pathways Through Ocean Exploration and At-Sea Research Experiences project, in collaboration with Newport High School and NOAA partners, builds on the previous reach of the STEM at Sea program, providing immersive, career-connected learning opportunities for students focused on increasing ocean literacy and building STEAM identity. The multi-part project will engage high school students from Newport High School English Language Department, for whom English is a secondary language, in a series of classroom activities, field trips, and at-sea experiences. Near-peer, Latinx graduate student researchers will serve as mentors, engaging high school students in classroom activities and field experiences, including daylong research cruises to collect data to support their research. Additionally, a subset of high school students will then engage in a paid internship program with researchers.

Purple Mai‘a Foundation  (Hawaii)
Young Native Hawaiians come from a lineage of remarkable ocean explorers yet are underrepresented in ocean exploration careers and rarely given access to the most cutting-edge technologies for ocean exploration and visualization. The Future Navigators: Bringing Moananuiākea to Life in Extended Reality (XR) project shifts this by inviting Hawaiian youth from underserved communities across all islands to learn cutting-edge technologies that help us draw connections between our ocean exploration past and modern-day ocean exploration careers and technologies while also building a vision for our shared ocean future. The project aims to advance students’ technological skill acquisition, ocean literacy, cultural connection, and motivation and confidence to pursue STEAM and ocean exploration careers.

Savannah State University  (Georgia)
Savannah State University (SSU) Coast Camp will provide a free, 4-week summer program featuring ocean literacy, ecology, and related inquiry-based learning opportunities for diverse youth, ages 7-18 years old. Camp will include real science experiences both in the classroom and in the field, facilitated by SSU faculty, students, and staff, and in collaboration with Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary. These experiences aim to increase participants’ awareness of local marine science career pipeline opportunities and advance ocean literacy and STEAM workforce development.

Continuing Projects

Black in Marine Science  (Florida)
In 2022, Black in Marine Science (BIMS) hosted the inaugural Black in Marine Science Immersion Program (BIP week), which brought Black undergraduates from across the country to South Florida for a week of hands-on learning, research, restoration, and conservation activities in various ocean science disciplines. This year, BIMS is partnering with Little Growers Inc. for a mini BIP-week for Black K-12 youth in South Brevard County. To carry the successes from last year forward, several of the undergraduate BIMS program alumni will be part of the program to assist the younger students with hands-on activities. This year’s project serves as a professional development for last year’s students to gain experience in science communication, while also introducing a younger generation of Black youths in an impoverished community to marine science.

University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science  (Florida)
In April 2022, the University of Miami Rosenstiel School hosted “Ocean Explorers,” an immersive field trip to introduce local marine science research and career opportunities to middle and high school students from underserved schools in the Miami region. To expand the impact of this event, Ocean Explorers Educational Kits will be distributed to six additional schools in marginalized Miami-Dade communities. The kits will include culturally relevant lesson plans and supplies for teachers to provide diverse learners with hands-on, ocean science curriculum.

University of Southern California  (California)
Access to and affordability of dive training and equipment is a known barrier to entry for youth from underserved and underrepresented communities to enter ocean science careers. To combat this barrier, the University of Southern California Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies piloted the Scientific Diving Discovery Program, providing American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) dive training and gear to six students from across the country with a previous DEIA Ocean Exploration Education grant. This year, the institute aims to certify six or more students from various minority-serving institutions, targeting students with no prior SCUBA training. The program duration has lengthened to better support all students in obtaining AAUS scientific diving certification and provide additional professional development opportunities.

Explore the Investing in Our Ocean Future StoryMap  to learn more about the grants and previously funded projects.

Published March 1, 2023