A group of 29 Hoover High School students recently returned from Bahía de Los Ángeles in Baja California after working alongside scientists and professors.
“We would travel in boats, for example, to some little island. And, once we got there, we would just get on the water and there we would study everything there,” sophomore Yairo Chique said.
The Hoover High School student described a few parts of the trip.
“You get to really see what they do and how it works,” Chique said. “You really get to do hands-on work, too. The simple fact of you being underwater, seeing a whole, huge animal and the experts just going under there, taking pictures of it and analyzing it like it's nothing is just really crazy.”
The Ocean Discovery Institute has been providing free, hands-on research through similar trips since 2004 for students in City Heights.
Carla Camacho was in that first class of students and now works for the organization. She said it opened the doors to opportunities she and her peers otherwise wouldn't have.
“Students that went to Baja with me back in 2004, now they're getting their PhDs at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, they’re opening their own businesses as environmental biologists,” Camacho said. “It's just exciting to think it takes 15 to 20 years to see these really transformational experiences, but they really happen.”
On the trip, students took daily excursions to learn about science topics such as tracking the local bird population, researching sea turtles and fish, and even swimming with whale sharks — as Chique described.
USD professor Perla Myers mentored some of the high schoolers.
“We were sitting on a boat, and we were surrounded by hundreds of dolphins — and they were jumping all around us. And the eyes of the students were just filled with wonder. They loved it,” she said.
Camacho said the Ocean Discovery Institute works with more than 6,000 youths a year at schools and camps and through its leadership program.
She told KPBS that 77% of the students connected with her organization have earned science and related degrees.