When four Black female scientists in the Sarasota-Manatee area teamed up to create Minorities in Shark Sciences (MISS), they understood the positive impact they'd be making on the Black community. Children of color who attend Title 1 schools or have little access to the ocean are less likely to be in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.
Co-founder Jasmin Graham, a biologist at Mote Marine Lab, also understands the systemic issues that keep children of color from the scientific field, especially marine biology.
"There are particular issues and traumas surrounding water for the Black community," Graham explains. "There are societal factors that keep Black people from being outdoors and around water, including the history of segregated schools, standardized testing and college entrance biases and financial constraints."
Minorities in Shark Sciences is an opportunity for kids of color to explore the ocean, maybe even for the first time. The organization meets at Manatee County parks like Robinson Preserve and Emerson Point Preserve for its free programs, which include Science by the Sea and an upcoming summer camp in June on Cedar Key, taking place at the Nature Coast Biological Station in Cedar Key, Florida. The idea is to invite groups typically excluded from STEM programs, such as LGBTQ+ youth, racial/ethnic minorities and kids from under-served communities.
"This year's summer camp is going to be really fun, with shark dissections, fishing, learning to tie knots, kayaking and more," says Graham.
Graham says Science by the Sea also helps increase environmental stewardship for the next generation. Kids are more likely to help preserve the environment if they know more about it.
"This is a chance for kids to come out and learn about our local ecosystem and marine critters hands-on," says Graham. "Not only are we increasing science literacy, but we also having fun wading in the water, going out onto boats and exploring the coastlines.
Minorities in Shark Sciences is also particularly focused on the representation of intelligent Black females in science.
"Kids always tell me they've never seen a Black scientist before, let alone someone that looks like them," says Graham. "The girls will ask me what I do with my hair when I go in the water, because their moms tell them not to get their hair wet. They ask if it's safe to swim in the ocean. It's great to be that representation for them."
Plus, Graham says, "lots of parents see women of color running [the program] and feel comfortable because we know, understand and live in the same space."
"Lots of time girls are cast aside in programs like this, in male-dominated fields; moms like that their daughters can be taught to have a voice and be leaders," she continues.
Graham wants to help up-and-coming women in STEM, too. Minorities in Shark Sciences also offers a Rising Tides mentorship program, partnering with international women at the start of their career in shark conservation and giving them resources and funding to continue.
All Minorities in Shark Sciences programs are funded by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, a program called Save Our Seas and individual donors. More than 1,000 people have donated since the program was founded.
Registration for Minorities in Shark Sciences' summer camp ends on March 15. For more information, click here.