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Meet Shara Fisler of Ocean Discovery Insitute

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shara Fisler.

While most non-profit education organizations start small, few start small enough to fit into a closet. That’s exactly how Shara Fisler began Ocean Discovery Institute in 1999 – with its laboratory space shoehorned into a 250-square-foot kayak closet along San Diego’s Mission Bay. What took root in that shed blossomed into a national model for empowering our most underserved youth and developing scientific and environmental leaders.

Shara’s focused is on engaging young people from underserved, urban backgrounds, in authentic ocean science experiences. From this work came Ocean Discovery Institute, whose mission is to empower these young people to transform their lives, their community, and ultimately our world as science and conservation leaders. Shara founded the Ocean Discovery Institute around a single premise: by receiving high-quality opportunities for science learning, kids in poverty stay in school, go to college, develop a passion for conservation, become scientists and decision makers, and gain entry to high paying fields where they make a difference for others.

Today that vision has transformed into an unprecedented reality where students from the most underrepresented groups earn college degrees and attain careers in science and conservation. “Our goal is to provide what’s needed for young people to grow, from seedlings full of potential into tall trees who find the solutions for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. Their community of parents and teachers, who all want a better life for their kids, provide the rich soil that nourishes these young people. Ocean Discovery provides the ongoing, rigorous opportunities young people need to thrive – like sunshine, and our donors provide the financial resources, like rainwater, making sure that these opportunities can be available to children who don’t otherwise have access to these opportunities.”

Through the past 19 years, Shara’s leadership has enabled Ocean Discovery to engage over 65,000 young people in rigorous, ongoing science programming that enables curious youngsters to grow into aerospace engineers, environmental consultants, molecular biologists, and other professionals who make a difference.

Fisler’s dedication to program integrity and business development have allowed the organization to grow into a nationally recognized model. She leads a full-time staff of 25 and manages a $2.3 million annual operating budget. In 2015, Shara successfully completed a $17 million capital campaign to build a state-of-the-art, Platinum LEED science facility in the community served. Guided by Fisler’s vision, the organization is now working to strategically expand locally and to replicate its model nationally with the support of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. Shara and her team regularly publish best practices.

President Obama commended Fisler within the Oval Office in 2012. On behalf of Ocean Discovery Institute, Shara accepted the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring from President Obama.

Recognition of Fisler’s accomplishments include the 2016 CNN Hero Award, 2015 Union Bank/KPBS Local Hero Award, 2015 California Society for Ecological Restoration President’s Award, 2015 KPBS Union Bank Women’s History Month Local Hero Award, 2010 Sunset Magazine Coastal Hero Award, and 2010 Western Society of Naturalists’ Naturalist of the Year Award.

Shara holds a B.S. in environmental science from the University of California Santa Barbara and a M.A. in marine resource management from University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Has it been a smooth road?
We have had many challenges along the way, however, what is truly unique about the organization is it mirrors its students and community in resiliency. The growth Ocean Discovery has had in the past 19 years has been exponential from students, staff, board, and community (donors, volunteers, & City Heights).

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Ocean Discovery Institute – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Today, many young people in our country live in poverty and lack opportunities to succeed. One of the opportunities that is glaringly absent is access to rigorous science education. Because of this, kids who grow up in underserved communities don’t believe science is something they can do or that a scientist is someone they can be. This means that we are missing the chance for great discoveries by not including all young people.

We have a solution. By providing continuous science opportunities, paired with mentoring and the tools to overcome challenges – young people unlock their potential.

Today, we reach 6,000 students in San Diego, CA. We provide tuition-free opportunities – in and out of the classroom. In California, a state that ranks second to last in science test scores, our in-school programs participants increase their science knowledge by 30%. Against a backdrop in which less than 10% of low-income, first-generation college students earn a degree, 75% of our after-school participants earn a college degree within six years.

Ocean Discovery students defy the odds.

Our students believe that a scientist is someone they can be. They think critically and they achieve because of it. They enter the fields of biotech, engineering, environmental consulting, fisheries, marine biology, education, and public policy. They are committed to making a difference.

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