The Wrigley Institute’s Discovery Science Diving program helps students from underrepresented minority groups achieve certification in scuba diving.
Seven new members joined the scientific diving community this summer thanks to a USC Dornsife program to diversify its ranks. (Photos: Yannick Peterhans.)
Marcela Riddick emerged from the water in a wetsuit and snorkel mask, screaming excitedly. She had just completed her very first scuba dive, at Big Fisherman’s Cove, outside the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island.
“I absolutely lost it – in the best way – coming out of the water. I was screaming at everyone I was a fish,” says Riddick, a recent graduate of the USC Marshall School of Business with a Master of Science in social entrepreneurship and building a career in environmental education.
Although she grew up on the beaches of Southern California, she had never had the chance to dive before due to the high cost of lessons and equipment. The lack of diversity within the diving community also deterred her.
The Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, headquartered at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, recently hosted the Wrigley Institute’s Discovery Science Diving Program to help people like Riddick learn to dive. The program aims to diversify the field of scientific diving, which is overwhelmingly male and white.
“Scuba diving can be a gateway to careers in science, ocean conservation, love, and a deeper connection to environmental stewardship. We want to open these doors to as many people as possible. people possible,” says Jessica Dutton, associate director of research and engagement at the USC Wrigley Institute.
Dive for knowledge
The divers take a first aid course, which took place both on land and in the water, as part of their training.
The program began with support from a National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Ocean Exploration Education Mini-Grant. Duton and John Heidelbergdirector of the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center and associate professor of biological sciences, applied for a grant to train students from underrepresented minority groups in scuba diving free of charge.
Their vision was for a course that would allow students to enter the job market directly. “We thought, ‘Okay, what training does someone need to get a job as a scientific diver right after our program?’ says Hanna Reed, diving safety manager at the USC Wrigley Institute. Reed helped organize the program and gave instructions to the students, as well as to Kory Lambert, chairman of the Next Generation Committee for the National Association of Black Diverswho also earned his dive master certification while attending this course.
After securing the funding, Dutton, Heidelberg, and Reed launched an application process that attracted seven undergraduate students from across the country.
In July, the students spent three weeks at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center where they dived into deeper and deeper waters and practiced skills such as underwater data collection, first aid, tying and driving small boats. At night, they studied for certifications including the AAUS Scientific Diver certification and the NAUI Advanced Scuba Diver certification.
They also attended lectures on topics such as fish identification and heard from scientists from different walks of life, including Diane KimAdjunct Assistant Professor (Teaching) in Environmental Studies, who spoke about her experience as a Korean-American woman working in science and her groundbreaking research on kelp.
Riddick says these lectures helped illuminate what they were seeing on their dives.
On her deepest excursion, at about 65 feet, Riddick spotted a giant shovelnose guitarfish, a species she was able to identify thanks to a vertebrate identification course led by professor David Ginsburg ( teacher) of environmental studies.
“It was almost the size of me and I’m almost 5-2!” said Riddick.
Friends in low places
An underwater graduation ceremony closed the program.
Reed says the program provides a tangible career boost for students; there are a surprising number of jobs available for those with diving certifications, from environmental consulting to marine archeology to aquariums.
Reed hosted lectures from Octavio Avila, director of USC Dornsife Career Pathways, and his team who guided attendees through the options available to them.
“The goal of the program was for participants to see that there was room in the diving community for all walks of life, to see what researchers do every day and hopefully bring them to life. comfortable with the idea of higher education or careers in science,” says Reed. .
USC Wrigley hopes to expand this program next year, to a total of 16 participants, if they can find another round of funding.
Beyond job prospects, the program also helped students create a network of like-minded colleagues. Riddick feels like he’s made real connections with the other attendees, speaking of a diving trip to the reunion in Miami.
“I am now part of a global community of people who know how to breathe underwater,” says Riddick.
See you sailor. Participants in the new dive program gather in the water just off the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center.