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On July 27, 2004, the leaders of the six scientific organizations in the Woods Hole, MA, area officially established the Woods Hole Scientific Community Diversity Initiative.

By Jamey Reid, USGS

Three photos showing tall ships.
Top: Preparing a Shipek grab sampler. Bottom left: Climbing the ship’s rigging. Bottom right: SEA Diversity Workshop participants say good-bye to sailing school vessel (SSV) Corwith Cramer.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed with the purpose of working cooperatively to increase diversity in the local area and in the sciences. The participating organizations include the Marine Biological Laboratory, the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Sea Education Association (SEA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)'s Woods Hole Science Center, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the Woods Hole Research Center. The goals of the initiative include:

  1. to provide advice to Woods Hole scientific organizations; 
  2. to be a resource through sponsored activities and referrals; and 
  3. to cooperatively undertake recruitment, retention, and mentoring programs that will result in a diverse group of students, employees, and researchers in ocean sciences, biological sciences, geosciences, ocean engineering, and marine and environmental policy.

The participating agencies acknowledge that significant barriers exist between the present situation and their future goals, and they are prepared to gather the resources needed to overcome those barriers. The MOU is designed to "create pathways of opportunity that will attract people from underrepresented groups by showing that the Woods Hole scientific and educational community has opportunities beginning with primary education and leading to higher education, postgraduate work, research, and lifetime careers both in Woods Hole and in the global scientific community."

The signing of the MOU kicked off the 2004 SEA Diversity Workshop, the third in a series of four workshops funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation. The workshop brings together participants from Morehouse College, the Marine Biological Laboratory, Clark Atlanta University, the USGS, Cornell University, the ACE Foundation in Bermuda, Carlton College, NOAA, Harvard College, the National Science Foundation, Howard University, the Los Angeles Maritime Institute, Hampton University, and the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

Participants in this year's workshop attended mini-lectures in oceanography and nautical science and participated in a three-day cruise on the sailing school vessel (SSV) Corwith Cramer, one of SEA's research sailing vessels. The participants experienced, firsthand, everything students encounter during the SEA programs, including sailing, deploying oceanographic equipment, and conducting laboratory procedures, as well as cooking, cleaning, and doing what it takes to maintain the ship. Members of the ship's crew walked participants through man-overboard, fire, and abandon-ship drills. During the cruise, the participants had frank discussions about diversity-related issues and barriers. In three short days, it became clear that the impact of a SEA semester in the life of a student goes far beyond science and adds to overall life skills as well. Students emerge with not only a better understanding of oceanography but also a tremendous increase in confidence and self-esteem—two traits that are important in self-development. In addition, they learn survival, teamwork, and leadership skills. All of this packaged together enables these students to become highly competitive as they seek future work and success in the sciences.

The participants held a wrapup session when they returned to the SEA campus. The session resulted in a list of actions for SEA to incorporate into its diversity plan, as well as actions for the participants to take with them to their home organizations in support of SEA. SEA will reconvene the workshop in 2005, bringing together all of the participants from the first three workshops.

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