Scripps's Cheryl Peach a UC San Diego Diversity Award Winner

Sierra Joy Stevens-McGeever

They say enthusiasm can be infectious. This surely seems to be true when you talk with Cheryl Peach about her work in education outreach.

Peach has worked unrelentingly to connect scientists and graduate students to underserved communities in San Diego. Peach was one of the 18 awardees of the annual UC San Diego Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action and Diversity Awards Program. The program honors staff, faculty, students, departments, and organizational units or groups that make outstanding contributions in the areas of equal opportunity, affirmative action, diversity, and the UCSD Principles of Community during the year.

Peach is the Director of Scripps Educational Alliances at UC San Diego and a program scientist at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her position is focused on supporting the interplay between science and education at Scripps, specifically spearheading new initiatives and partnerships in outreach and education, as well as incorporating aspects of Scripps research activities into high quality education and outreach programs locally, regionally, and nationally. She is also Scripps principal investigator for the Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence (COSEE) and past chair of the national COSEE Council; co-principal investigator of the Scripps GK-12 program, Scripps Classroom Connection; education manager for the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) Cyberinfrastructure Implementing Organization; and a founding member of the OOI Education and Public Engagement Team.

The secret to Peach’s success is in her network.

“Over the years what has served me well is cultivating relationships with people in organizations that have stood the test of time. Through bumps in the road they are poised and ready to partner [with us] when opportunities arrive,” she said.

 Peach has primarily focused on fostering relationships with teachers and administrators in the San Diego Unified School District, the second largest school district in California. The school district is ethnically and socio-economically diverse, thus constituting an excellent resource for increasing diversity in the sciences.

Peach is the creative mastermind behind the San Diego COSEE chapter.  COSEE is a national program meant to improve and expand ocean science education by “integrating the results of current scientific research into classrooms and informal education venues, giving thousands of scientists the opportunity to broaden the impacts of their research.” COSEE outreach takes place in a multitude of fashions; two of the most common are workshops and summer research. Teacher workshops are held on a variety of topics in which researchers educate K-12 teachers on the latest science coming out of their labs at Scripps. Teachers can also work in research labs over the summer and take a hands-on part in the science. This experience will become increasingly important with the new education standards which require teachers not only to teach the subject matter, but talk about practicing science.

Peach came to Scripps in 2001 after she and husband Neal Driscoll, a geologist, both got jobs at Scripps. She had previously earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences from University of Virginia and a Masters degree in oceanography from the University of Washington. She received her Ph.D. in geological sciences from a joint program between Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History. After her Ph.D. she worked at Sea Education Association, a non-profit that specializes in field-based ocean education at sea.

 Peach also helped start the Scripps Classroom Connection Graduate Fellows in K-12 education, or the GK-12 program. Peach describes the program as a win-win venture. Graduate students are paired with teacher to work on curriculum development and teaching during a school year. The graduate students expand their repertoire of communication techniques by presenting to a group that is not their peers. Teachers receive help in lesson planning from a research scientist and the opportunity to learn about current research. Students are able to interact with young scientists, learn from them, and be inspired by them. In addition, the program funded the tuition and stipend of the graduate students. 

Although San Diego Unified is a demographically diverse district, Peach’s efforts have focused on bringing these programs to schools that have a high number of students receiving free and reduced lunches. She explains that this is one of the ways they identify under-served areas.

Peach is a firm believer that these efforts are critical.

“I think that kids in affluent schools have a lot—lots of access to lots of resources,” Peach said. “They typically have socio-economic situations that provide them access to much, much more than kids in underserved schools. What that translates into is students in underserved schools don’t just have a lack of opportunity, they have a lack of knowledge of the range of possibilities that exist. Often students just don’t know that they can make a profession out of something, not just science and engineering but a range of topics.”

Through the COSEE and the GK-12 programs, Peach has helped facilitate the connection among scientists, teachers, and K-12 students that improves the quality of science education and hopefully inspires students to consider the sciences on their career paths.

“Cheryl contributes massively to the professional development of Scripps graduate students through seminars aimed at developing and honing their communication skills with the general public and their scientific peers,” said Scripps Oceanography geoscientist Hubert Staudigel and a fellow GK-12 program leader. “She also helps Scripps scientists to formulate outreach and communication plans and to optimize their interaction with the general public and the K-12 community.  In this effort she has played matchmaker in numerous fruitful collaborations between Scripps scientists and San Diego science teachers.”

Peach’s passion is transparent when she talks about these issues. Her efforts were acknowledged this year when she was awarded one of the UC San Diego Diversity Awards. About her award Peach said, “It’s quite humbling. There are a lot of people at UC San Diego working directly with underserved populations. Diversity has been part of everything that I’ve done in terms of large projects and initiatives, but they are all indirect. It’s nice to have the recognition that those efforts are important too.”  

These efforts are definitely important and cannot be accomplished without lots of help in facilitation from people like Peach. Peach emphasized that her accomplishments were supported and facilitated by her colleagues including Staudigel, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Executive Director Nigella Hillgarth and “all the wonderful staff at Birch Aquarium who do a wonderful job getting kids excited about the ocean.”

– Sierra Joy Stevens-McGeever is a third year graduate student in the lab of Scripps Oceanography marine biologist Philip Hastings.

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