This year’s edition of our Upward Bound Math and Science (UBMS) program has been extra special because it is the first year of the new, NOAA-funded Your Shores initiative. Your Shores is a collaboration between UBMS, Frost Science’s Museum Volunteers for the Environment (MUVE), and the museum’s marine conservation team that gives underserved high school students the skills and experience to pursue careers in marine science.
The first big milestone for the seven Your Shores students? Getting scuba certified! Scuba diving is a key skill for many marine scientists, yet it is expensive and time-consuming to get certified. Scuba class with local dive shop Squalo Divers was the main job for the Your Shores students this semester.
The seven students, plus two UBMS mentors, began scuba training in late September. After a couple of pool sessions, the group explored Tigertail Lake. Like many people who have gone through the scuba training, students at first were a little nervous about diving. However, they soon shed their anxieties and began to enjoy being underwater. Says Your Shores student Mason Pini, “Initially it was difficult and confusing, but after a few dives it quickly began to feel very natural.” His classmate Danessa Acosta agreed: “You can take in the beauty of the environment around you instead of worrying about your next breath!”
At Tigertail Lake, the group had a blast diving down to 30 feet and exploring the sunken ship and airplane. “Once we started swimming to our dive location it just felt so cool to see myself and all my friends in our diving gear, with our black wetsuits and BCDs [buoyancy control devices, the inflatable vests divers wear to maintain their depth],” recounted Your Shores student Christina Polycarpe. It’s safe to say the scuba class was a hit.
Now that they are dive-certified, the Your Shores team will put their skills to work in the ocean. Over the next few months, they’ll split their time learning about and participating in coastal restoration both on land and in the water. They’ll also have a few classroom days at Frost Science to discuss what they have learned, collaborate on final projects, and take college readiness classes.
The entire Your Shores program was designed with an eye toward the students’ futures. Nearly all will be the first in their families to go to college. “This scuba diving experience is going to open a lot of doors for these students,” explains UBMS Program Manager Leandra Gonzalez, who also got scuba certified alongside the Your Shores cohort. “Now they’re on their way to diving into the ocean with the potential to see so many different organisms and play a hand in restoring the natural world. I’ve seen their self-confidence skyrocket and I know it’s going to keep growing as they add new skills from this program.” We can’t wait to see what they do this semester!