Editor’s Note: The Ocean Discovery Institute empowers young people from underserved communities by introducing them to the world of science and conservation, and the career opportunities in those fields. We are proud to support ODI through our Environmental Champions grant program, as well as through partnership efforts where we support ODI’s free science learning opportunities paired with mentoring. ODI’s success was recently highlighted in the San Diego Union-Tribune. The UT published an inspiring first-person account by an ODI graduate who overcame obstacles and now works for Illumina and is close to getting her bachelor’s degree in environmental science from San Diego State University.
How do you get children hooked on science, engineering, environmental conservation and other impactful fields that will empower them and their communities? It’s all about early exposure.
One of the organizations that’s having success in this area is the Ocean Discovery Institute (ODI). What’s unique about this City Heights-based organization is that it pairs free science learning opportunities with mentoring and exposure to career opportunities.
Last month, several members of SDG&E’s Major Projects team spent an afternoon with a group of students in kindergarten through 5th grade at ODI’s Living Lab. The students got a behind-the-scenes “virtual tour” of one of our construction projects and learned first-hand from working professionals what it’s like to be a field biologist, a site engineer, and even a paleontologist.
Thousands of Young Lives Transformed Through Science
ODI works with thousands of City Heights youth each year, helping them to discover a passion for science. The nonprofit’s motto says it all – young lives transformed through science. Kids of all ages are given the opportunity to learn and succeed in the sciences.
SDG&E has been a long-time supporter of ODI. Our Director of Environmental Services, Scott Pearson, has been an ODI board member for more than five years.
ODI and our Major Projects team came up with the Learning Lab experience together.
When ODI staff and program participants made a presentation about their work at an SDG&E Environmental Services team meeting, our Transmission & Distribution Project Manager Jennifer Kaminsky thought that students might be interested in learning about some of the lesser known aspects of working at SDG&E - parts of the job that had to do with biology, paleontology, and engineering.
So, together with an SDG&E project partner, KP Environmental, the team was able to put together a unique after-school program that featured science and careers at SDG&E and beyond.
Inspiring Students to Think Big About Science Careers
After arriving at the Living Lab and enjoying a healthy snack, students were seated in the lab to begin their learning adventure. First, they were greeted by SDG&E Chief Environmental Officer Estela de Llanos, who provided them with encouragement to continue their studies.
After students watched an aerial flyover of one of SDG&E’s construction projects, the South Orange County Reliability Enhancement (SOCRE) project, they heard from “the boss” of that project, SDG&E Project Manager Jennifer Kaminsky. She explained how SDG&E works to minimize impacts to the environment during the construction process.
Next KP Environmental and one of their biologists, Jorge Rivera, who also works for SDG&E, spoke to students. As a former ODI program participant himself, his words resonated with the students, as they learned that he once walked in their shoes, and now he is a successful biologist.
The biggest hit of the day is when students were introduced to Rodney Hubscher a field paleontologist from the San Diego Natural History Museum. In addition to its museum in Balboa Park, The Nat has a PaleoServices group that supports many different construction projects, including ones for SDG&E. Recent work at the SOCRE project uncovered some shell fossils, reminding us that parts of San Juan Capistrano were once underwater.
The program ended on a high note with students having fun practicing their paleontology skills and doing a mock excavation - digging and sifting for shells in bins of dirt. They even got to play dress up: donning hard hats, safety vests and paleontology tools. Kids, their parents, and ODI staff raved about the unique experience that engaged students and inspired them to think big about careers in the sciences….maybe even with SDG&E.
Learn more about Ocean Discovery Institute and its Living Lab here: http://oceandiscoveryinstitute.org/. Learn more about SDG&E’s Environmental Champions program here: https://www.sdge.com/environmental-champions-initiative.