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January 23, 2020

An undergraduate internship in watershed science education with school-age children in Burlington, Vermont catapulted Anne Correia ’03 into a career in environmental education. 

The experience inspired her journey cross-country to San Diego, California, where she now manages facility operations at Ocean Discovery Institute. Anne helps the Institute to engage more than 10,000 local students from 14 area schools each year in science education. 

“We use hands-on activities in ocean ecology to get kids excited about science,” said Anne. 

Anne, who grew up in Wrentham, Massachusetts, graduated from the University of Vermont (UVM) Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources with a degree in environmental sciences and concentrations in ecological design and plant and soil science. 

While at UVM, she discovered watershed science and teaching. As an educator with the Watershed Alliance, a K-12 program of Lake Champlain Sea Grant, UVM Extension, and the Rubenstein School, Anne taught children and their teachers about the Lake Champlain basin, stream ecology, and water quality. 

“I realized how much I enjoyed teaching kids about aquatic science. My involvement with Watershed Alliance was the foundation that started me along the pathway to my current career,” said Anne, who followed up the internship with environmental education opportunities at camps, schools, and a nature reserve, close to home in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, to build upon her experience. 

In 2008, she made the big move to San Diego as an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer with Ocean Discovery Institute. There, she intended to get her feet wet in marine biology, while working with university scientists, before applying to graduate schools. Her plans changed after her first summer while she conducted research in Baja, Mexico at the Institute’s field station on the Sea of Cortez with high school students from San Diego. 

“These were first-generation students, many of them immigrants, working hard to get into college,” said Anne. “It was powerful to be a part of their transformation. I fell in love with the organization, its mission, culture, and students.” 

She extended her AmeriCorps service which then rolled into a full-time position with the Institute. She ran the Living Lab project and managed fund-raising and construction of a new 12,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility in the heart of the ethnically diverse community of City Heights, home to 12 schools within walking distance. 

Anne helped to raise $18 million through competitive government grants and gifts from local foundations and individual donors. She spearheaded a first-of-its-kind partnership with the San Diego Unified School District; the Institute owns the land, and the school district owns the building. 

After ten years, the Institute opened its new Living Lab in 2018 within budget. Anne continues to work on attaining LEED Platinum-certification for the building and installation of an energy monitoring system and a solar energy array with the goal of reaching net zero energy. She is currently involved in a new capital project to secure blighted land next to the lab to create a playground. 

“I got the opportunity to really build something and use skills learned at the Rubenstein School in ecological design,” said Anne. “A lot of time and effort went into designing the unique architecture of the facility. We set high expectations for our students, and they deserve the best from us.” 

The Living Lab sits above a 30-acre urban canyon used for research and learning. The new facility houses offices for 25 staff, two large teaching laboratories, a living roof garden, and a scientist-in-residence apartment where researchers from across the nation and around the world live for two weeks to up to three months. The Scientist in Residence program brings science directly to the students, as the scientists teach at the lab, create new curricula, and give lectures about their past experiences. 

“Students from underserved and ethnically diverse neighborhoods get to see a scientist as a real person and, in turn, themselves as scientists,” said Anne. “Not only do they get to work together, but they also share meal times and really get to know each other and build common understanding.”

Anne spends much of her time writing grants to help fund the Institute. Support comes from national and local foundations, government agencies at all levels, corporations, and deeply committed individual donors, all of which allow the Institute to keep its programs completely tuition-free. 

During the school day from September to July, following the year-round California school calendar, the Institute provides day-long field trips to the Living Lab as well as field trips to the coast for all 6,000 elementary and middle school students and their teachers. The Institute also runs camps after school and during school breaks and provides after school homework tutoring, study halls, and high school research programs and college application assistance. 

“We have an extensive community of help, including bilingual, volunteer tutors who work one on one with students after school on their homework,” said Anne. “Our graduates make up the largest proportion of our visionary community, and they give back by serving on our board and donating.” 

Anne interacts with staff, vendors, and contractors to facilitate programming, scheduling, technology, building maintenance, and landscape upkeep. She serves as a liaison between the staff-run programs and the students and their families. She still gets to do what she loves first and foremost and periodically helps to teach and interact with the students who drew her to build her career at the Institute more than ten years ago.

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