Ocean Discovery Institute: Scaling an Educational Model Locally and Nationally

    Mission statement 

    Ocean Discovery Institute works to address inequities in access to rigorous science and environmental education by using an ocean science platform to empower students, from urban and underserved backgrounds, to transform their lives, community, and ultimately the world as science and conservation leaders.

    Core focus area 

    Founded in 1999, Ocean Discovery serves 4,000 students annually in the community of City Heights, a low-income, ethnically diverse neighborhood in San Diego. Ocean Discovery is working to expand its reach, both locally and nationally, in order to enable more young people to gain access to these fields and become environmental leaders.

    Ocean Discovery’s vision for growth employs two strategies:

    1. Local scaling: Ocean Discovery will open a Living Lab science education facility in the heart of City Heights and will grow its programs to reach every young person in the community (10,000 unduplicated students).
    2. National replication: With support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Ocean Discovery spent four years studying and working toward replicating its model nationally. This effort will begin in Norfolk, Virginia and will ultimately grow to other coastal, urban communities nationwide.

    Scaling locally to serve an entire neighborhood in San Diego, CA
    In 2018, Ocean Discovery will open the doors of its Living Lab. This state-of-the-art science and environmental education facility will allow Ocean Discovery to grow from serving 4,000 students each year, to nearly 10,000. This means that every elementary, middle, and high school student in Ocean Discovery’s community of service will have access to its 100% tuition-free programs. These programs are part of a comprehensive model that results in improved science tests scores, higher college graduation rates, and increased rates of entry into the science and conservation workforce.

    This model includes specific elements that work cohesively to achieve the greatest impact:

    • Reaching students in and out of school: These programs exclusively serve students that attend schools in the City Heights neighborhood. During the school day, Ocean Discovery provides science programs to every elementary and middle school in the neighborhood. Students receive hands-on lessons focused on STEM concepts. All units align with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). After school and during school breaks, students of all ages participate in science and conservation-oriented experiences including canyon restoration, STEM career exploration, and hands-on labs. Students in middle school through college can participate in intensive research programs that are coupled with robust mentoring experiences as well as college and career support services.
    • Providing a continuum of programming and following students over time: A mother may bring her toddler to an out-of-school program knowing that her child will receive years of consecutive in-school programs and the opportunity to participate in out-of-school science research, and career transition support. The expansion of the Living Lab and a data partnership with the San Diego Unified School District will enable longitudinal assessments of how programs influence student achievement, college attainment, and STEM and environmental degrees earned.
    • Removing barriers to access: In order to ensure every student in the neighborhood has the opportunity to participate, programs are 100% tuition-free. However, we are rooted in a “tuition-free, but not commitment free” concept. This means that while all science programs are provided at no cost, students are expected to give back in other ways like mentoring the next generation.

    Replicating nationally in Norfolk, VA
    In 2012, NOAA (a decade-long partner) urged Ocean Discovery to bring its model to low-income, urban, coastal communities across the nation. Since then, NOAA has been a catalyst in advancing the vision for replication. Together, NOAA and Ocean Discovery completed a feasibility study that informed the replication strategy and identified Norfolk, VA as the optimal site for a pilot.

    Efforts included:

    • Conducting a 3-year feasibility study that resulted in the identification of Norfolk, VA as the ideal location to pilot replication. Ocean Discovery and NOAA investigated coastal communities along the Chesapeake Bay. Critical variables such as a communities’ distance from a large body of water, levels of poverty, student achievement in science, and graduation rates were assessed. Other variables were also examined to ensure that the model could be adapted to fit the community’s needs. In addition, the study looked at the presence of STEM industries, funders, as well as potential mentors from academia, industry, and government agencies.
    • Researching over 50 successfully replicated nonprofit organizations to inform a path forward. To identify the replication strategy that would best enable Ocean Discovery’s model to replicate nationally, a robust literature review was conducted and organizations that have successfully replicated to multiple sites were interviewed. The information that was gleaned provided continual guidance as the team delved into the research on the best strategy for replication. The literature review and active model research resulted in a list of successful models and lessons learned regarding expansion via replication. This work ultimately resulted in a refinement of Ocean Discovery Institute’s Business Model as well as recommendations for the future organizational structure that will support replication across multiple locations.
    • Establishing a team of local champions in Norfolk, VA who continue to identify individuals and organizations that might support this expansion through funding and partnerships. Ocean Discovery’s primary partner in Norfolk is the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA). The NRHA has a culture that supports collaboration, and it values the community’s investment in youth. The literature on replication emphasizes the importance of local leadership and committed champions.