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Why This NOAA Scientist Is Temporarily Calling City Heights Home

Jasmin John, a NOAA scientist (left), and Carla Camacho of Ocean Discovery In...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Above: Jasmin John, a NOAA scientist (left), and Carla Camacho of Ocean Discovery Institute, stand in the open-air entry way of the Living Lab, March 26, 2018.

San Diego's mild winters may be enough to attract scores of East Coast tourists this time of year, but Jasmin John came here for the science. More specifically, John, a climate modeler at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, traveled from New Jersey to mentor City Heights youth.

"Working with the underserved community and the students in the community to give them a chance to explore science and learn what it's all about just really resonated with me," said John, who works at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

John is the first scientist to settle in an on-site studio apartment at the Living Lab, a multimillion-dollar research space coming to the lower-income Mid City neighborhood.

The center's two laboratories, rooftop garden, community kitchen and teched-out lounge and study spaces will exclusively serve City Heights students, although pupils at other institutions may serve as volunteers. The 12,000 sq. ft. campus still hasn't officially opened its doors after construction delays pushed back its grand opening, but its scientist-in-residence program is moving forward with John's recent arrival.

She’s using her temporary tenure to enhance science education in the area. Right now, she’s developing a curriculum to help teach sixth graders how to collect and plot data from measurements extracted at San Diego’s shores.

"I'm not sure I knew how to plot data when I was around sixth-grader age," John said, laughing. "I think it might be putting them above (average)."

The Living Lab comes from a partnership between San Diego Unified and the nationally recognized nonprofit Ocean Discovery Institute. The organization teaches area youth about the ocean through a watershed in the lower-income community, which is where the new facility is located.

Ocean Discovery Institute’s Carla Camacho said the Living Lab will help the nonprofit reach thousands more kids with enhanced hands-on education both in and outside the classroom, but it also includes added elements that will help the nonprofit broaden its focus, such as the rooftop garden and a kitchen.

"It’ll include fitness classes, healthy cooking classes, and as a part of that, it will be 'Where does your food come from?' as well," Camacho said.

Camacho said the nonprofit hopes to open the Living Lab by this fall but does not yet have a firm date. In the meantime, NOAA researcher John is working with Ocean Discovery Institute staff during her stay through mid-April to leave a mark on the Living Lab’s future programming.

For example, she hopes when one of the laboratory's water tanks are installed, instructors can adjust the temperatures and pH levels to represent measurements from the past, present and projected future of the ocean. Students can use their knowledge to guess which tank represents each period and how that affects wildlife.

"And we’ll ask them to start thinking ... is your animal that you have going to survive in these tanks?" John said.

But personally, the Trinidad and Tobago native said, she wanted her time at the Living Lab to provide City Heights students something she didn’t have: a role model.

"It can spark that little curiosity that says, 'Oh this is really cool. Maybe I would like to do this someday,'" she said.

John, who arrived in San Diego earlier this month but moved into the apartment last week, said she'll continue to advise on curriculum even after she returns to them in the fall and is recruiting for that role now.

Living Lab Tours

Visitors are welcome to view the facility by appointment.

Photo caption: Jasmin John, a NOAA scientist (left), and Carla Camacho of Ocean Discovery In...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Jasmin John, a NOAA scientist (left), and Carla Camacho of Ocean Discovery Institute, stand on the top level of the Living Lab across from the window-encased Gorguze/Peters Family and Sweeney Family Kitchen, March 26, 2018.

An upcoming science education center in the San Diego neighborhood will also house a scientist-in-residence.

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