Empowering the Next Ocean Leaders
Every day, our team of educators strives to have a transformative impact on the young people who take part in our teen programs. It's central to our commitment to shape new generations of ocean conservation leaders, and it's the vision behind our new Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership.
This is especially true of our four in-depth programs for teens. We design supportive and challenging learning experiences to build their environmental identities and their confidence. That's why our Teen Conservation Leaders program includes opportunities for public speaking, social media sharing and community organizing.
And we're very proud that they're already making a difference in the world: as conservation leaders, educators and ocean advocates.
Roberto Flores began his relationship with the Aquarium as a Teen Conservation Leader and participated in Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats. He's now a full-time teen program coordinator. "I was a shy kid — always the last one to hit the dance floor," he says. "But after the Aquarium's program, I became the de facto person to speak in front of other people."
Felicia Davidson participated in our Teen Conservation Leaders, Young Women in Science and Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats programs. These experiences made her a valued summer employee at the Aquarium. She says our youth development opportunities were life changing.
"For me it's about making a connection with people, even for five minutes," she says. "That's what I remember most about my work at the Aquarium. And that's what keeps pulling me back."
Yazmin Ochoa found her calling — connecting with international visitors as an Aquarium volunteer — after taking part in Teen Conservation Leaders, Young Women in Science and other programs. In addition to coaching other teens as a summer staff mentor she's pursuing geography and environmental science degrees at Dartmouth.
"I wasn't really considering this path before, but working at the Aquarium made me realize it was what I really wanted to do," she says. "I like the global aspect of things and want to focus on the environment and geography as it affects environmental health."
There are so many more stories like theirs. We're excited to be able to have a similar impact on twice as many teens in the years to come.
WHEN LUIS DAVID was a sophomore at Monterey High School, an Aquarium representative visited his class to promote our volunteer guide program. Luis became an Aquarium guide at age 16 — and the opportunity ended up in uencing his career path.
Now he's a marine science student at California State University, Monterey Bay. He also works at the Aquarium — full-time in the summer, part-time during the academic year — as an assistant instructor. He's certified as a bilingual interpreter, drawing from his native Spanish language and cultural skills from a childhood in Mexico. (His family moved to the United States when Luis was eight.)
As with many other student volunteers, Luis credits the Aquarium with helping him realize his potential. "I was a bit of an introvert," he says. "The biggest value I received from the Aquarium was that I came out of my shell a little. That opened a lot of doors in the workforce, and academically."
Because of his experience at the Aquarium, Luis envisions a career as a conservation communicator or naturalist. And, like many others we've touched, he hopes to give back one day, helping students receive the same opportunities that he benefited from. That's one reason he's looking forward to the opening of the Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership.
"When the center opens, we'll be able to accommodate many more students," Luis says. "More students means more opportunities to convey our conservation mission and to develop future leaders. We'll also have more lab space, which is key to hands-on learning. Being able to see and touch animals is so important — and it's a unique part of what the Aquarium has to offer."