Around the Pier: Robert and Allison Price Give $6 Million to Birch Aquarium


“One of the real shortcomings for children in communities like City Heights and other areas is the lack of opportunity to have exposure to cultural institutions as well as museums and science resources,” said Robert E. Price, who with his wife Allison leads Price Philanthropies, a private family foundation.

Because of their passion for changing the way education is delivered to students living in underserved areas, Robert and Allison Price, through Price Philanthropies, donated $6 million to UC San Diego’s Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The gift will establish the Price Philanthropies Ocean Science Education Fund, an education outreach program in ocean and earth science. This permanent resource will expand access to the aquarium's current outreach programs and support development of an innovative new education program for students throughout San Diego County. These hands-on programs will not only advance student engagement in science and inspire interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, but also provide a blueprint for how teachers, informal science educators and scientists can work together to transform science education.

This is the largest gift made to Birch Aquarium since the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation (headed by Patrick and Rose Patek of San Diego) gave $6 million in 1986 to fund a new 31,000- square- foot aquarium and ocean science center at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Birch Aquarium at Scripps enhanced a century-long tradition at Scripps Oceanography of bringing ocean and earth science to students and the local community.                     

“Our primary interest in our philanthropy is supporting families, and particularly youth, in disadvantaged or challenged communities,” Price said. “So the gift is really intended to make it possible for children to take advantage of this wonderful Birch Aquarium resource, hopefully to become excited about marine biology and protecting the environment … and get a bigger picture of the world.”

Allison Price added, “Children are the future stewards of our land and our oceans. The more educated our young people are, the better chance we have of maintaining our environment. You never know who’s going to be the next scientist that’s going to discover something. It makes us feel so good to see young people getting excited. It’s worth so much just to see their faces, and see the excitement.”

Price Philanthropies (formerly Price Family Charitable Fund) was founded by philanthropist and Price Club founder Sol Price and his wife Helen in 1983. Today, their son Robert Price is president of Price Philanthropies, as well as chairman of the board of PriceSmart, Inc., which is the largest operator of membership warehouse clubs in Latin America.

“The Price family has a long legacy of positive impact on UC San Diego and our region,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “Now, thanks to this generous investment in education outreach by Allison and Robert and Price Philanthropies, we can further expand UC San Diego’s community outreach efforts and resources to inspire and encourage our region’s youth to enter STEM careers.”

For more than 50 years, UC San Diego has been committed to K-12 education to help build the pipeline for future UC San Diego students. The university remains dedicated to admitting more of the top students from San Diego’s underserved communities as it expands its education reach as a portal to quality STEM education.

The Birch Aquarium outreach education program, funded in part by Price Philanthropies endowment, will include:

  • Outreach Education:  Free delivery of existing Birch Aquarium education outreach programs through specially equipped vans to up to 420 classes in underserved schools in San Diego County (reaching up to 14,000 students).
  • Beach Science:  Engagement of 30 classes of 6th grade students in underserved schools in the first year, and up to 60 classes in subsequent years, in a new, multi-day science program that starts and ends in the classroom. Far beyond a field trip, the Beach Science program is common core-aligned curriculum reinforced by a full day of scientific investigation at the beach and at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The endowment funding covers both the cost of the program and the cost of transportation to Scripps.
  • Graduate Student Involvement:  Birch Aquarium will implement a college course in which Scripps Oceanography undergraduate and graduate students are trained in pedagogy—the science and art of education and communication. Scripps Oceanography graduate students will act as role models for the 6th grade students, teaching assistants for the programs and a resource for school educators. A Price Postdoctoral Fellow will coordinate the graduate student program, serve as a consistent scientific presence in every program, co-teach the training course for undergraduate majors and graduate students, mentor and supervise the university students in their teaching activities, and work with Birch Aquarium science education leadership to build relationships with teachers and administrators across San Diego school districts.

This new education outreach program reflects the mission of Birch Aquarium, which is to provide ocean science education, to interpret Scripps Institution of Oceanography research and to promote ocean conservation.

“Grounded in the leading-edge research conducted at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, much of Birch Aquarium’s programming and curriculum directly address the university’s strategic initiative to focus research, education and outreach on understanding and protecting our planet,” said Margaret Leinen, vice chancellor for Marine Sciences and director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Scripps Oceanography is more than just ocean science; we are working to create strong ocean and earth stewards of our planet. Price Philanthropies Ocean Science Education Fund is a great way to not only connect Birch Aquarium and Scripps, but also to teach youth in our region the importance of preserving and protecting our planet.” 

The Prices’ interest in the environment led to a connection with Birch Aquarium and with former director Nigella Hillgarth. “For me personally, the connection really grew out of the relationship with Nigella. We remember Birch Aquarium from the old days when it was down below, and pretty primitive. I think what really changed our attitude and feelings about the aquarium was Nigella … her vision, and also her passion.” In appreciation of Hillgarth’s work, the Price gift includes naming an outdoor education courtyard at Birch Aquarium the Nigella Hillgarth Education Plaza.

The total Birch Aquarium outreach education endowment goal is $8.3 million. The $6 million endowment established by Price Philanthropies is open to ongoing contributions—added to $200,000 raised previously, $2.1 million more is the minimum needed to sustain full operation of all programs.

“This gift is transformational in the way it provides opportunities for students from low-income schools to experience the wonders of the ocean at Birch Aquarium as well as to engage in the scientific process of collecting data at the beach,” noted Debbie Zmarzly, Birch Aquarium interim director. “The activities funded by this endowment are designed to help students better understand our Blue Planet as their ‘life support system’ as well as to foster and inspire interest in STEM careers. Young people are the future scientists and stewards of the planet. The program funded by the Price endowment is a win-win for everyone: school districts, Birch Aquarium and the San Diego region.”

She added, “UC San Diego is one of only a handful of public universities with an outreach effort of Birch Aquarium's magnitude. I am optimistic that San Diego residents will join Price Philanthropies and other donors in expanding the reach and impact of Birch Aquarium's education programs to those unable to afford the program fee.” Donations to help fully fund the endowment and maximize access for underserved students can be made at  

The ocean outreach education program will begin in fall 2015. Local educators at underserved schools interested in these programs for their classes are encouraged to visit beginning August 3, 2015, to fill out an application. They may also contact to learn more.

About Price Philanthropies

Price Philanthropies (formerly Price Family Charitable Fund) was founded by retail entrepreneur and philanthropist Sol Price and his wife Helen in 1983. Today, Sol and Helen Price's son and daughter-in-law, Robert and Allison Price, continue the family’s legacy through their leadership of the foundation. Sol Price believed that a just and fair society provides good wages and benefits to working people and that people who have been fortunate enough to accumulate wealth are obligated to give back. Price Philanthropies continues to invest in organizations and programs that faithfully reflect the vision that Sol Price had for a more just society. Learn more at


About Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the aquarium features more than 60 habitats of fish and invertebrates from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico and beyond. An interactive museum showcases research discoveries by Scripps scientists on climate, earth and ocean science and features five-dozen interactive elements. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Birch Aquarium has an annual attendance of more than 420,000, including 40,000 school children. Please visit our website at


Giving to UC San Diego

The University of California, San Diego is a student-centered, research-focused, service-oriented public institution that provides opportunity for all. Recognized as one of the top 15 research universities worldwide, a culture of collaboration sparks discoveries that advance society and drive economic impact. Our students, who learn from Nobel laureates, MacArthur Fellows and National Academy members, are committed to public service. For the fifth consecutive year, UC San Diego has been ranked first in the nation based on research, civic engagement and social mobility. We are a top ten public university with multiple pillars of excellence. We are thankful for visionary philanthropists who join us in our quest to transform lives, shape new disciplines and advance the frontiers of knowledge. Learn more at



Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.