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WHOI Moves Toward the Head of the Class

Half of the U.S. population—nearly 140 million people—lives in coastal counties, but few students or citizens ever learn much about the ocean or meet the people who study it. At the same time, scientists are increasingly being asked to get involved in educating the public, though many do not have the time, resources, or training to do so.

In 2000, a group of concerned ocean scientists and educators organized a workshop to help bridge this gap. Participants proposed that research institutions, formal educators (K-12 and collegiate), and informal education groups (aquaria, museums, and science centers) should find a way to work together to improve ocean science literacy. These teams would collaborate to bring more current research into education, to increase the involvement and impact of scientists, and to raise public awareness. The result was the establishment of seven Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence (COSEE), funded by NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences.

Late in 2002, NSF awarded a $2.5-million grant to establish the New England Regional COSEE, a collaborative effort proposed by the New England Aquarium (NEAq), WHOI, and the University of Massachusetts. The program will last five years. An advisory board of researchers and educators will help steer the operations.

“This new partnership combines the strengths and capacities of three well-known institutions,” says New England COSEE director Carolyn Levi of the New England Aquarium. “It creates a synergy whereby educators, researchers, and citizens can build awareness of the importance of the ocean in our region and in our lives.”

The COSEE@WHOI team is led by Deborah Smith, senior scientist in the Geology and Geophysics Department, and Andrea Thorrold, program coordinator. They are supported by staff from Academic Programs, Woods Hole Sea Grant, and Communications.

“As we developed the national COSEE plan, I realized that it was a great opportunity for WHOI,” said Smith, a participant in the workshops that spawned the COSEE initiative. “We have a chance to be a leader among science institutions in coupling research with education.”

Within the New England COSEE, each institution is focusing on a different audience while participating
in each other’s events (see box, opposite page). In the summer of 2003, the University of Massachusetts team (led by Bob Chen) held an ocean science institute for middle school teachers. In November, the New England Aquarium team (led by Levi and Billy Spitzer) hosted a meeting to establish partnerships between ocean scientists and educators from science centers and museums.

Originally published: November 1, 2003