The next generation of science and environmental leaders

(Left to Right) Yajaira Nunez, Drew Talley conducting research in Bahia de Los Angeles. Credit Ocean Discovery Institute

College? That was not exactly what my parents or I had in mind when we moved to City Heights from Mexico City. Like many parents in City Heights, mine wanted a better future for me, but they had no idea what getting into college involved.

Thanks to a partnership between the Ocean Discovery Institute, the University of San Diego, and the National Science Foundation, I and others are living our dream.

The Ocean Leader Scholarship at USD is part of an initiative to increase the number of students from underrepresented backgrounds into the sciences. The program provides ample support and research opportunities through campus entities, as well as ongoing counseling from assistant professors at USD’s Department of Marine Science and Environmental Studies and Dr. Drew Talley, science director of Ocean Discovery Institute’s Scientific Advisory Board.

Once selected, Ocean Leader Scholars take on various opportunities to prepare for a career in science and forms part of the scientific leadership within his or her community.

Growing up in City Heights presented me with the opportunity my parents wanted and allowed me to find organizations and resources such as Ocean Discovery Institute to support my interests and preparation for college. Now, I’m not only a college graduate, but part of the Ocean Discovery Institute team that supports the next generation of science and environmental leaders from City Heights. As the College and Career Coordinator for the Leaders Initiative, I have the opportunity to help other students from my community pursue college.

One of these students, Yajaira Nunez, joined Ocean Discovery Institute as a high school junior. She realized her future included not only earning a bachelor’s degree, but pursuing a doctorate in the sciences and working as a college professor.

Another student, Daisy Mercado, quickly found her passion for ecology through exposure to research opportunities, convincing her that science  was the most fitting path for her.

Daisy and Yajaira will be joined at USD by Hoover High Senior Monica Cisneros in the fall.

“I could not believe I was selected to be the Ocean Leader scholar!” Monica said after learning of her selection.  “Knowing that I will attend one of the best universities in the country – and my dream school on a scholarship – is priceless. I am extremely thankful for this award and I am ready to take on this amazing opportunity.”

Students in the program are prepared not only for a successful future at USD, but also ready to become tomorrow’s scientific and environmental leaders. Yajaira, Daisy, and Monica are just three of the many City Heights students who are achieving their dreams through college. With your support, we can continue to prepare our students for future careers.

Claudia Rodriguez is a City Heights resident, recent graduate of UC Berkeley, and currently the College and Career Coordinator for the Leaders Initiative at Ocean Discovery Institute. If you are interested in supporting her work, you can volunteer to help at a College Preparation Boot Camp. She can be reached at or (619) 550-8618.