Spelman Partners With OceanX To Advance Diversity in the Marine Sciences

Spelman Partners With OceanX To Advance Diversity in the Marine Sciences

Statistics show that Black and brown researchers only account for six percent of America’s life science workforce, and there is a growing increase in the significance of resources that offer students of color direct opportunities in the STEM workforce.

Global ocean exploration nonprofit OceanX announced its partnership with Spelman College, a historically black liberal arts college for women, to increase diversity in STEM education and bridge existing gaps in the marine sciences. To equip Spelman students and faculty with resources and opportunities, the partnership will focus on four core areas: OceanX’s Young Explorers program, employment opportunities, research and curriculum development, and partnership building.

Co-Director of the Spelman Innovation Lab, Dr. Jerry Volcy, and OceanX Science Lead Mattie Rodrigue provided BLACK ENTERPRISE with more insight on the signature Young Explorers program and its cutting-edge research and media production vessel, the OceanXplorer.

“OceanX’s partnership with Spelman College is rooted in our organization’s long-standing efforts to increase diversity in STEM education and transform the marine sciences into a diverse and inclusive field,” Rodrigue says, mentoring many of the incoming Spelman students. “Our signature Young Explorers program, which launched in 2021, has made STEM career paths more accessible to diverse communities, providing students with hands-on experience in media production, science communication, state-of-the-art technology and research methods, and bolstering career development in the ocean exploration trade.”

According to Dr. Volcy, a pivotal partner in the project, each year, approximately 14 select students travel on OceanX’s state-of-the-art scientific research vessel, OceanXplorer, for two weeks during the summer months, appointing one of those spots to a Spelman student.

Rodrigue says she will work closely with Spelman faculty to ensure a hands-on experience with the ocean science process through curriculum development, livestream sessions, or in-person visits to the campus.

“We believe that when students see people like themselves carrying out cutting-edge research, working in advanced labs, and offering themselves up as mentors, a world of formerly inconceivable opportunities opens up to them,” Rodrigue adds. 


Students who have the benefit of traveling with OceanX as part of the Young Explorers program will be immersed in hands-on research in marine biology and oceanography in a scientific lab at sea and under the supervision and guidance of diverse professionals already practicing in ocean exploration and media.

“OceanX plans to engage partners, including Spelman and Howard, by providing curricular content around media production, marine vessel operations, science (introductory classes and hands-on programs), and science communication. We hope to work in collaboration with our partners to develop options that complement the exceptional experience already available at the college,” Rodrigue says. 

Young Explorers provides students with enriching insight into ocean science as they board the OceanXplorer for an introduction to ocean research, science, exploration, and media, as they focus on angles that include scientific research, technology, digital media, and ship operations. 


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The OceanX–Spelman partnership also extends opportunities for faculty members to participate. A key component of the partnership includes working closely with faculty members to develop a curriculum that offers live classroom opportunities that will be incorporated into biology courses for Spelman students. “Space permitting, OceanX will allow one faculty member from Spelman to sail this summer,” Dr. Volcy says. 

“Both professors and students will have opportunities to participate in ocean research projects in the classroom and aboard the OceanXplorer,” Rodrigue adds. Additionally, “there is already some discussion about leveraging the experience for course credits in the future,” Dr. Volcy notes.

Professional opportunities

The partnership between OceanX and Spelman aims to benefit students interested in a future in marine biology, marine research, engineering, media production, and filmmaking. The program extends beyond academia, granting students and faculty access to mentors and potential work opportunities through OceanX’s esteemed network of partners and sponsors. 

“All students are supported with recommendations and connections to various internship opportunities,” Rodrigue says. “We are in the process of building an alumni network/program so that students and faculty who participate can stay connected and involved, and we can continue to support the Young Explorers as they transition into new career opportunities.”

OceanX’s partner network includes leaders from organizations such as Black in Marine Science, Coral Vita, Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute, NOAA, and others.

Impacting researchers of color in America’s STEM workforce

“Diversity in all disciplines is important. In the case of the STEM disciplines, it is a matter of national security that we grow the U.S. STEM workforce if we mean to maintain our global preeminence in science and technology. Failing to fully tap into the potential of women (50% of the population) or people of color (a growing demographic) is no way to do this. In both cases, the evidence is clear: what has been historically lacking is exposure and access. The collaboration with OceanX is one more step in redressing this history,” Dr. Volcy says.

The Spelman partnership addresses this equity gap head-on by offering women of color direct opportunities in the STEM workforce through OceanX’s innovative programming.

“Last year, we announced our collaboration with Black in Marine Science—a partnership that bolsters our efforts to elevate the work of Black marine biologists and connects participants of our programming with their rich oceanic research. Black in Marine Science is one of our many partners who will be mentoring, supporting, and inspiring the next generation of researchers,” Rodrigue says.

OceanX looks forward to the partnership, ensuring that the face of marine science is representative of the people impacted by the ocean, aiming to cultivate the students and scientists that represent the communities most affected by climate change.