A tour group from Palomar College on Scripps Pier, Nov 2023
A tour group from Palomar College on Scripps Pier, Nov 2023


A very important part of what we do in the Geological Collections is to teach students of all ages and the community at large about the importance and impact of the scientific research conducted with samples from the geological collections. Numerous times throughout the year, we conduct lab tours for students from elementary to college age, Birch Aquarium Summer Camp attendees, donors to our collections, as well as for interested members of the community.

During these tours we have the chance to teach visitors about topics such as how and where different types of seafloor rocks form, what sediment cores are and what they tell us about the areas of the seafloor in which they were taken, how we use x-rays to tell and show us more about our samples, how scientists use samples like corals, microfossils, tree cores, and more to reconstruct past climate settings, how scientific research with samples from our collections teaches us more about Earth’s history, and much more.

Some examples of schools, other than SIO, that have had a tour of the Geological Collections are: Corona del Mar Middle and High Schools, Nativity Prep Academy, Vista Middle School, High Tech High, El Centro Junior High, University of San Diego, Grossmont College, California State University-Bakersfield, Palomar College, Bird Rock Ocean Club, San Diego Coastkeeper and many more. Besides giving tours, the Geological Collections also provides bulk sediment samples from the seafloor to educators of all levels, in California and beyond, to use in their classroom, so that students can see and touch ocean sediments firsthand.

This is a great opportunity, especially for land-locked students to learn about the ocean with actual ocean mud. Along with samples, information about where the samples were taken, what the sample contains, and how to treat the sample in the classroom so students can see the tiny, sometimes fossil-bearing, components of the sediments. We have gotten amazing feedback from educators after their students get to work with the seafloor material! One of the educational programs that benefits greatly from having access to educational samples is San Diego Youth Science. They have brought seafloor samples of mud, rocks and microfossils into hundreds if classrooms giving thousands of students access to learning opportunities about the ocean they would otherwise not have. It is an amazing program that also supports teacher, administrators and families of the students they educate.

Tour group from Bird Rock Ocean Club about to head out on Scripps Pier, March 2022
Tour group from Bird Rock Ocean Club about to head out on Scripps Pier, March 2022

Since 2018, the Geological Collections has been participating in a very cool project called GEOPATHS. The GEOPATHS project is a collaborative project between University of San Diego, California State University-Bakersfield and SIO. The goal of the project is to inspire under-represented students through learning to pursue careers in the geosciences and to keep them engaged in those careers. The project focuses on taking undergraduate students out to sea to collect geological samples and to then have the students engage in research with the samples in the classroom or as a part of a summer internship. Over the three years of funding for this project, there will be a total of seven research cruises. Another goal of this project is to have high school teachers participate in a workshop, as well as embark on a research cruise, and then to develop curricula based on the geosciences and oceanography. The ultimate goal is have the teachers perfect these curricula through teaching and then to make the finalized module available to teachers throughout California and beyond. More details on this project can be found here.

In 2019, the four collections at SIO were featured in a photography exhibit by SIO alumni Oriana Poindexter, MAS'15. The collection is called Treasures from the Scripps Collections. Half of the proceeds from the sale of the images will go to the collections. The collection had numerous debut events both at SIO and in the community at large, so has been a great source of outreach for all four collections. We are very grateful to Oriana for wanting to highlight the collections in such a unique and artistic way.

The Geological Collections does a lot of work to support the Birch Aquarium. In 2018, all four of the Oceanographic Collections at SIO helped in the creation of the Oddities: Hidden Heroes of the Scripps Collections. It was such a fun experience to bring science to life in the form of giant comic panels and see people of all ages enjoy such a fun exhibit! The exhibit even inspired a science teacher from the Monarch School in San Diego to have her students create their own educational comics based on a species that they were researching. The exhibit should be up well into 2020.

On November 19, 2018, head Curator Richard Norris and collections manager Alex Hangsterfer gave the Jeffrey B. Graham Perspective on Ocean Science Lecture.

In August and October of 2016, the collections manager was the guest scientist and presenter at the Birch Aquarium's Full Moon Pier Tour, where dozens of members of the aquarium and the public came to SIO to listen about the history of SIO and the Geological Collections, walk on the pier at sunset and have interactive experiences at tables set up by the aquarium and collections manager.

The Geological Collections were happy to be a part of the Birch Aquarium's first ever “Exploring Ocean Careers” event, on April 1, 2014, April 14, 2015, April 27, 2016, April 26, 2018 and April 30, 2019. At each event, there were about 200+ people in attendance, half of which were students from 6th through 12th grade. The students had a chance to walk around and interact with researchers, graduate students and staff scientists from Scripps, and then participate in a question and answer session where the floor was open to ask the Scripps scientists questions when everyone was together in on room.

On June 22, 2014, the Geological Collections, along with the Marine Vertebrates Collection, set up a display table at the Scripps Family event at the Seaside Forum. This event hosted 75 members of the Scripps family, who are descendants of E.W. Scripps and his offspring.

On June 7, 2014 and June 10, 2017, a group of students from Animo Leadership Charter High School's Marine Biology Club came for a educational tour of the Geological Collections. Many of the members of this club are also a part of C-DEBI (Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations) and Rising Deep Scholars. All members participate in educational outreach at public events like Earth Day and local aquarias and fairs, parents meetings, and more. They are mostly Hispanic and African-American in descent and come from low-income, primarily immigrant families. Although they may be a part of the Marine Biology Club, their director, Mark Friedman, exposes them to all aspects of science and oceanography, including marine geology. They are young, inquisitive and ambition young men and women, who will hopefully be up and coming ocean and science leaders!

Educational samples in our collections have been donated to educational institutions both locally and in other states.

The Ocean Discovery Institute is a local organization in Pacific Beach that uses science exploration to engage urban and diverse young people in three ways: education, scientific research and environmental stewardship. They inspire their students to make a difference as scientific and environmental leaders.

We donated seafloor and some terrestrial samples, including glassy basalts, pumice, gabbro, diorite, sandstone, manganese nodules, and other rock samples, as well as samples of sediments containing microfossils. Along with these samples, Power Point presentations containing slides that teach about coring techniques and what deep-sea sediment cores are, how sediments become finely laminated, what dredging is and why the rocks retrieved are useful and how they form, microfossils and corals, terrestrial inputs into the ocean, and more.

These samples and presentations are now incorporated into the curriculum at the Ocean Discovery Institute, giving the students there the opportunity to learn about ocean systems and why they are important.

The Ocean Institute in Dana Point, CA offers hands-on marine science, environmental education and maritime history programs to more than 110,000 K-12 students. They have a phenomenal visitors center in Dana Point that has museum grade displays and specimens, many of which are interactive, and all of which are highly educational. In the past, educational samples from our collection have been donated to the Ocean Institute, and in 2009, we were able to donate several more hand-sized educational samples to Rick Baker (Vice President of Education) at the Ocean Institute. These samples are now on display for their more than 50,000 annual public visitors and also for use in their educational programs. This is yet another way samples from the geological collections are reaching and educating the community.

Educational samples were also donated to Dr. Arthur Nonomura, an SIO researcher. He used these rocks as inspiration to challenge students in a San Francisco high school to not let any of their classmates dropout, a problem that has been escalating in the last several years. In Dr. Nonomura’s own words, he describes this abyssal rock challenge:

“Last year, the junior class at George Washington High School, San Francisco, was challenged by SIO's Dr. Nonomura to graduate without dropouts. If they met the challenge, GWHS would be endowed with a legacy from the Class of 2011--abyssal rocks that originated from geological collections at SIO. Curator Alexandra Hangsterfer assembled and distributed appropriate specimens and brainstormed with Dr. Nonomura about these such educational applications. Principal Lovrin, counselors and faculty immediately came onboard, supporting the proactive response of students to the prospect of leaving an enduring educational legacy by engaging them in the pursuit of excellence, encouraging fulfillment of long-range goals, and educating them about the ocean surrounding them. Availability of the specimens inspired the students to touch the abyssal environment and ask deeply probing questions. Coincidentally, the timing of the challenge could not have been better because it came in the midst of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, when deepwater exploration was at the forefront of our minds. As a result, the Class of 2011 understood and accepted the challenge. They understood that their classmates would be the first to know if somebody was considering dropping out and that friends giving support and positive feedback could turn the tide. All of the students worked hard at making this work and, as a result, the graduation numbers show that the rocks from SIO greatly enhanced the Class of 2011 in meeting their goal.”

The principal of GWHS, Ericka Lovrin, is sure that this rock challenge deeply motivated the students to meet Dr. Nonomura’s challenge to stay in school.

Dr. Nonomura also donated some of the educational samples from our collection to Arizona state senator John Nelson. The senator was motivated by these deep sea rocks, just as the students from GWHS, and decided to support the creation of a display in the AZ state senate for the deep sea rocks from the geological collections at SIO. Each year, thousands of community members come to visit the state senate, including many school groups. A new highlight of visiting the state senate now is the display of deep-sea rocks. Some of the rocks donated came from cruises that utilized the submersible Alvin, and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) supported by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The display highlights the exciting ways we access the seafloor and the unique samples we retrieve and what they can tell us about Earth’s history.

Scripps supports summer programs that engage school students of all ages in programs that cover interdisciplinary topics, including marine geology.

One such program is called Focus on the Future (FOTF), a program started by Dr. Tony Haymet that reached out to Compton high school students, starting in 2010. In 2011, the program included 20 high school students and 6 teachers from their high school.

In July of 2011, all 20 students and four of the teachers had the opportunity to sail aboard the R/V Sproul for a one-day cruise. Accompanied by educational director at the Birch Aquarium Kristin Evans, benthic invertebrate specialist Greg Rouse, graduate student in the geological sciences Jillian Maloney, USGS scientist Norrie Robbins, and  Geological Collections Manager Alex Hangsterfer as P.I., students witnessed and assisted in the retrieval of sediment grabs using the Van Veen grab, plankton net tows and core recoveries using the box corer. This was an opportunity that these students would otherwise never have had the chance to participate in and many of them were extremely excited about the at-sea experience they had. They had the chance to learn about how we take geological samples, what scientists do with those samples, how they do the research they engage in, and most importantly, why the work they do is important and what impact it can have on all of our lives. It was an exceptional day for the geological collections in terms of being able to reach out to and impact our community!


Outreach image gallery