Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is pleased to announce a three-year strategic partnership with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. With a grant of $150,000, Mote will launch Ocean Guardians, a new program designed to increase access to STEM education for underrepresented and underserved students in Sarasota County. The grant will also support several donor and member engagement events during the grant period.

Through Ocean Guardians, local students will have opportunities to build the knowledge, confidence, and skill needed to become career-ready and to consider careers in STEM. “Hands-on, STEM-focused educational opportunities are critical for every student. We’re thrilled that the Ocean Guardians program will allow us to expand upon what is taught in the classroom in ways that fully engage students and invite them to consider marine science as a possible career path,” said Aly Busse, Mote’s Associate Vice President for Education.

Throughout the academic year, Ocean Guardians will participate in an afterschool program with hands-on educational and interactive activities that build upon Mote research and are facilitated by Mote educators. The goal is for participating Guardians to increase their science literacy, develop positive attitudes toward science, gain a basic understanding of available careers in STEM, and deepen their appreciation of marine and coastal environments. All programming supports the five C’s of 21st century career readiness, which are communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and character.

Program activities include exploring the local marine environments through kayaking and dip netting in Sarasota Bay as well as learning about marine animals and marine taxonomy through various methods including squid and shark dissections.

Guardians will also learn to fly drones much like those used by Mote’s Manatee Research team to conduct aerial manatee identification surveys, and will learn how such studies provide vital data that help local and county officials manage manatees – and other wildlife – in ways that balance human activities and the sustainability of marine animals and their habitat.

“All activities are designed to provide students with an opportunity to learn through hands-on experience while also reinforcing the idea that anyone can become a marine research scientist if they want to,” Busse said. “As these students are in high school, they may be preparing for college and starting to develop a career interest, so this is a critical time to provide exposure to fields they may not have considered.”

During the summer, Ocean Guardians will receive a stipend and work together as a group to design and host educational events that engage members of their own communities and younger peers in science. Students will also work with Mote Educators to assist with community outreach programs, gaining valuable experience in translating and communicating science to audiences of all ages.

Summer stipends are a critical program component as they help to ensure the full participation of students who might otherwise need to obtain summer employment. The Ocean Guardians program serves as an example of Mote’s commitment to supporting community-focused engagement in science.

“We are delighted to partner with Mote in a long-term program that supports two critical areas for our region,” said Roxie Jerde, President & CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. “Exposing underrepresented youth to the STEM fields and cultivating their interest and expertise in marine biology is such a vital mission. Of equal importance is developing and retaining talent locally to promote protection of our region’s most valuable geographic asset—the gulf coast. This is the type of program that builds bridges to a stronger community, immediately and in the future.”

Mote’s Education Department provides STEM education through a wide variety of on-campus, regional outreach, and virtual education programs. This grant will allow Mote to take its science programming directly to underserved and underrepresented audiences after school and during the summer at regional organizations. During this inaugural year of the program, Mote is partnering with students and teachers at Booker High School with hopes to expand the program to other organizations in the future.

“We are honored to partner with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County to engage our community in meaningful programming that supports equality in STEM education,” said Andria Piekarz, Chief Development Officer at Mote.