New scholarship program supports diversity in scientific diving

The Scripps-led DIVERsity Fellowship Program is accepting applications for the Fall 2022 cohort until June 3

For some marine researchers, becoming a certified scientific diver is a game-changer. This certification can have a profound impact on the research experiences and career opportunities available to scientists interested in the underwater environment.

But the path to scientific diver status – defined by the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) – is long, costly and influenced by a long but ever-changing history of unequal access to opportunity.

A new program from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego seeks to break down some of these barriers and aims to make the diving community a more inclusive space. Officially launched in the fall of 2022, the DIVERSity scholarship program will support a small cohort of exceptional and diverse UC San Diego undergraduate and graduate students who want to contribute to oceanographic research but who face barriers to inclusion in scientific diving programs.

A group of Scripps graduate students return from their dive. Photos by Erik Jepsen/University Communications.

“Our goal with the DIVERsity scholarship program is to dismantle some of the systemic barriers that exist for underrepresented students who want to become scientific divers,” said Keiara Auzenne, director of Scripps Diversity Initiatives. “As a leader in scientific diving, Scripps has the opportunity here to help build a more inclusive future not just for scientific divers, but for the diving community as a whole.”

The initiative has already received six years of funding thanks to contributions from several members of the Scripps Director’s Council and the Scripps Education Department. Diving equipment manufacturer ScubaPro is also offering support by supplying the first cohort of fellows with soft gear including wetsuits, masks, fins and snorkels.

Each year, the program would see a new cohort of three to five fellows who would receive diver training in addition to the support of a dedicated faculty sponsor and mentor who is an active scientific diver. Students lacking water experience would have access to swimming and water safety lessons offered by UC San Diego Recreation. Mentors will help fellows enroll in appropriate swimming lessons (if needed), offer advice on how to become a better diver, and provide mental, emotional and professional support as the mentee progresses in their certification process.

Once a DIVERsity Fellow has achieved scientific diver certification, they will serve as an official mentor for the next cohort.

Doors opened by diving

The concept for the program emerged several years ago as a result of conversations between Scripps PhD candidate Erica Ferrer and PhD candidate Alyssa Griffin. The two had shared the financial, physical and emotional challenges they encountered while completing their respective dive programs, and the successes that followed their certifications.

“We were a bit amazed that once we got that certification, the doors opened, like magic,” said Ferrer, who got certified while finishing her undergraduate degree. at UC Santa Cruz. “Suddenly you have access to all these opportunities that you maybe didn’t even know existed before.”


Scripps graduate students participate in a scientific diving course in 2019.

While Ferrer enjoyed learning to dive and participating in subtidal science, she had to go into debt to pay for her training. Luckily for her, the risk paid off, as it opened the door to a summer job researching Ischia, an island in the Gulf of Naples, Italy. She also believes the certification helped her get into Scripps’ marine biology graduate program, where she is currently studying the sustainability of small-scale fisheries.

Now she wants to make sure other students, who might face similar financial challenges, have an easier experience becoming scientific divers.

“I want to make sure students like me feel like they can participate in science diving and don’t have to go into debt to do it because it was a risk,” she said. declared. “Thinking back to my decision to get certified, it seems so clear, but when I went there, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to recoup the costs. I didn’t know if I was making a terrible financial and life decision. I had no idea and it was very scary.

Griffin, who learned to dive very late in his PhD program at Scripps due to financial barriers, called scientific diving “transformational” for his work in marine geochemistry.

“The diving really opened up a whole world of possibilities in terms of the questions I could address and the processes I could observe,” said Griffin, now a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Davis. “It really allowed me to expand my science and my ability to do science.”

Ferrer and Griffin worked closely with Auzenne and Scripps Dive Safety Officer Christian McDonald to write the proposal for the DIVERsity scholarship and got the green light for the program to start in fall 2022.

Obstacles to success

In their proposal, Ferrer and Griffin identified cost as one of the biggest barriers for potential scientific divers. In addition to actual scuba lessons, certification requires expensive scuba gear, medical exams and more, costing several thousand dollars. Course prerequisites are another hurdle, as prior scuba diving experience and advanced swimming skills are often required, further impacting marginalized groups who have been consistently denied access to scuba diving. ‘water.

Ferrer and Griffin also noted the general lack of ethnic, racial, and gender diversity in the broader scuba diving community. Official statistics made available by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) suggest that the recreational diving community is heavily dominated by middle and upper class men, with the majority earning salaries of over $100,000 per year. year. Demographics within the scientific diving community are not currently tracked or made available to the public, but anecdotal evidence suggests that divers of color are few and far between.

turn the tide

Through the DIVERsity Fellowship Program, Ferrer and Griffin hope that Scripps can help bring about a culture change within the diving community, serving as both a partner and a model for other organizations and institutions to support diversity. and inclusion in diving.

Scripps is well positioned to lead such an effort, with over a century of experience in underwater exploration and seven decades of bold science via scuba diving. In 1954, Scripps founded the first ever science-based diving safety programsetting the standard for diver education at the University of California and inspiring the creation of other scientific diving programs like this around the world.

“I think the status and reputation of Scripps’ scientific diving program provides a really important opportunity to model this program and pilot this program,” Griffin said, “and we hope other institutions will follow.”


Two Scripps grad students prepare for a course dive in 2019.

Several other programs that support diversity in diving are already underway, including The Diversity Project at UCLA.

McDonald, who currently runs the Scientific diving program at Scripps, said he looked forward to supporting the effort at UC San Diego.

“I’ve seen over the years how transformative the experience of diving and access to the ocean can be for people,” he said. “It’s exciting for me to try to create opportunities for people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to the sea or the ocean, to just create a pathway for that and see how we can help transform their experience.”

Applications for the fall 2022 cohort will be accepted until June 3. The program is open to undergraduate and graduate students at UC San Diego, with priority given to underrepresented students whose research would benefit from scientific diving certification. Visit the Scripps SCUBA DIVERsity webpage to learn more about the program and see Scripps SCUBA DIVERsity Fellowship Program Application, 2022 – 2023 to apply.

Philanthropic donations such as those in support of DIVERSity scholarship program contribute to the Campaign for UC San Diego– a comprehensive, university-wide fundraising effort ending June 30, 2022. Along with UC San Diego’s philanthropic partners, the university continues its untraditional path to groundbreaking ideas, answers unexpected, vital discoveries and impact on the planet.

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