Hoover High students take a journey to Sea of Cortez thanks to Ocean Discovery Institute

ODI participants take a ride out to sea with a local fisherman. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Wood)

A Bumble Bee Foods executive who met with City Heights students working with Ocean Discovery Institute (ODI) came away so impressed that he decided his family had to get involved in the program. His wife, Genette McGowan, was soon asked to join the board of directors.

“We were hooked because we were so impressed with the kids and what ODI had done with them,” McGowan said.

Last month she drove 12 hours from San Diego as part of a caravan to a small fishing town, Bahia, Mexico, on the Sea of Cortez. There she met up with Ocean Discovery Institute  staff and a dozen  participants. The kids and staff spent five weeks learning about marine life and wetlands.

McGowan spent only four days in Bahia, but she came away inspired. “They (the kids) approach you, shake your hand, look you in the eye,” said McGowan. “Through exposure to sciences they have developed self awareness, confidence, and direction for their future. They want to and see how they can go to college. I attribute that to participation in the program.”

The participants, all from Hoover High, have been actively involved with the program for several years. The group selected to attend the Bahia trip are called Ocean Leaders.

During their five week stay, the Ocean Leaders gain experiences vastly different from their urban environment in City Heights. The youth worked with local fisherman and ventured in boats for close encounters with whale sharks, dolphins, fin whales, and other sea life. They also worked with scientists to study wetlands and the marine environment.

The Ocean Leaders are also involved in community service during their stay in Bahia. City Heights residents and construction business owners Jody Carey and Dennis Wood have for many years loaded their truck with materials in San Diego and drove to Bahia to lead the Ocean Leaders in a community improvement project. This year they refurbished benches at the field station that Ocean Discovery Institute rents during its five-week stay and built a fire pit and benches at an adjacent field station.

Like Carey and Wood, McGowan said she is looking forward to returning to Bahia next year with a new group of kids.

Ocean Discovery Institute is a nonprofit that seeks to prepare youth living in an urban environment to become scientists. The Ocean Leaders will be reporting to the community on their findings on Aug. 15 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Neurosciences Institute at UCSD. Those interested in attending should contact Carolina Barraza at cbarraza@oceandi.org or 858-488-3849.