Making a discovery is a life-changing experience no matter the discoverer's age, but seeing a child's eyes light up when they learn something new about the ocean blue is truly remarkable. FAU's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute sees this firsthand by providing the Ocean Discovery program this year to more than 100 children of the Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Lucie County, making this the biggest year yet.
"During the Ocean Discovery program, participants get to learn from our experts, do hands-on experiments and hear about research happening in their hometown,” said Gabby Barbarite, Ph.D., FAU Harbor Branch director of outreach and engagement "It has been so exciting to watch this program grow over the last four years, and we are thankful for the opportunity to inspire the next generation of ocean scientists and engineers."
Established in 2017, the Ocean Discovery Program aims to inspire next generation scientists by bringing marine science to children in underserved communities. During the five-week before- and after-school program, made possible through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Lucie County, students in grades four to eight learn about a wide variety of marine science topics and research underway at FAU Harbor Branch.
"The partnership between Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Lucie County and FAU Harbor Branch has an immeasurable difference in our community. The Ocean Discovery program teaches our club members 21st-century skills, connects them to their community and most importantly, gets our youth excited to learn," said Tommy John, director of community outreach at the Boys and Girls Club of St. Lucie County. "We could not ask for a better partner than FAU Harbor Branch. We are extremely grateful for all they do."
This year, due to COVID-19, outreach scientists are delivering marine science activity kits to seven local clubs each week and hosting virtual lessons, including a live presentation and a hands-on activity/experiment.
"We have a diverse group of members who are very involved in this program and look forward to it every week," said Elisa Torres, director of the St. Lucie West K-8 Club. "All of the members are engaged and ambitious to learn more about various scientific topics."
Some activities include making art with algae, a rescue simulation using a plush dolphin, designing underwater robots, testing water quality with a mini-secchi disc, and a chromatography experiment to see chemicals in action.
Once they complete the program, the students will receive a special backpack and a certificate.
“Because of the ingenuity, enthusiasm and commitment of graduate students and staff at FAU Harbor Branch, children are learning about their environment and how to care for it,” said Sandy Stevenson, who, along with her husband Norm, is a program donor. “The opportunities that Ocean Discovery programs so generously provide are ones that many of these children would never be exposed to without this endeavor.”