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The University of the Virgin Islands Youth Ocean Explorers Program Prepares VI Youth for STEM Careers

youth ocean explorer participant

On Saturday, Sept. 1, the Youth Ocean Explorers (YOE) program held a Seashore Trek event at John Brewers Bay, marking the close of the 3rd annual YOE, four-week program hosted by the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service (VIMAS).  

The Youth Ocean Explorers program, the substantially more ambitious offshoot of the five-day Coral Reef Discovery Week of several years ago, is open to students in grades seven through twelve. 

 Charlotte Amalie High School student, Kadejsha Tonge, 14, said, “The YOE program opened my eyes to how sick the ocean has become,” and made her want to “fix” it.  She said the hands-on experience she gained this summer and during her previous two summers in the program will help her in that endeavor. “Over my last three years I have seen the corals become unhealthy, and it is us who are doing the damage,” Tonge said. 

The program which provides a broad overview of a variety of marine career opportunities including oceanography, watershed resource management, marine biology, larval ecology, fisheries science, robotics science, and DNA engineering seeks as a prime goal to encourage more local young people to gain interest in and pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers. 

Trevett Williams, 15, is also in his third year with the YOE program. “I have always loved nature,” Williams said, and intends to eventually make a career in ocean science. 

According to program director, Howard Forbes Jr., 10 of the 23 young people who completed the summer program intend to pursue marine science as a course of study.  

Tonge and Williams, along with the other 21 students who completed the four-week course, initiated independently driven projects. The students chose their Capstone projects while mentors provided some insights, and suggested methodologies along with guidance and materials, as needed. The student groups were inspired by some of the information given to them earlier on in the program and decided which topics they wanted to explore further on their own. 

Some of the Capstone projects the students chose and developed included: 

  • conducting an inventory of marine life found in Brewers Bay 

  • investigating the specific effects of electromagnetism on animal species 

  • the prevalence and habitat preferences of the up-side-down jellyfish 

  • developing environmental literacy through marine life identification of fish species 

  • a marine debris art project which dramatically showcases the negative impacts of single use plastics through the creation of a plastic jellyfish built from such debris. 

YOE is part of a marine science career pathway program, SEAS Your Tomorrow. (Supporting Emerging Aquatic Scientists). This UVI program is funded by the National Science Foundation’s INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) program.  

“The SEAS Your Tomorrow Program is unique because it provides a complete career pathway program for U.S. Virgin Islands students interested in the marine sciences from middle school to the Ph.D. level,” said Dr. Kristin Wilson Grimes, assistant professor and project lead for the SEAS Your Tomorrow program. “A program like this is important, particularly for getting more students from underrepresented and underserved groups in STEM involved in the ocean sciences, which is one of the least diverse of all the STEM fields.”  

The University of the Virgin Islands has the only technical dive program at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), and the largest dive program under the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS).