Scripps Launches New Program to Support Community College Students in Geosciences

Scripps-GEO program bridges community college students to more opportunities and awareness in geosciences

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego recently launched a new program designed to foster opportunities in geosciences for community college students. The Scripps Geosciences Educational Opportunities (Scripps-GEO) program connects undergraduate students currently enrolled in San Diego-area community colleges with research experiences at Scripps in an effort to give them more experience and knowledge in the field of geosciences. 

The Scripps-GEO program first came to life in 2020, when it was funded by the National Science Foundation’s GEOPAths program. However, the COVID-19 pandemic postponed its official launch until January of 2022. The concept for a community college-focused program was developed by Program Director Jane Teranes, who had been looking for answers on how to increase the number of geoscience majors at Scripps. Teranes also directs the Scripps Undergraduate Research Fellowship, or SURF program, another NSF-funded program that supports opportunities in earth and ocean science for undergraduate students.

“It occurred to us that we have opportunities in all of the geosciences, and we’re sitting in San Diego, with a potential audience of diverse students who are coming up through the community colleges,” said Teranes. “So, the Scripps-GEO program is dedicated towards establishing a geosciences learning community, where we’re working with students at community colleges and trying to tell them about more opportunities in our field through seminars and research opportunities.”

Students participating in the program are cross-enrolled between their community college and UC San Diego, where they can receive credit for taking SIO 65, Geosciences Seminar. In this seminar, students have the opportunity to learn about entering the geosciences field. Guest speakers are a key component of the course. They share insight on different career paths, how to apply for research and education opportunities, how to analyze scientific papers, and how to craft a strong resume. They also lead tours of the research facilities at Scripps, including the iconic Scripps Pier. 

Scripps-GEO Program diagram
Illustration of the GEO program's structure and ideas.

A dozen Scripps-GEO students participated in the seminar last quarter, when it was offered at UC San Diego. Nine of those students were also chosen for the Scripps GEO-Scholars program—a paid research opportunity with a higher time commitment. GEO-Scholars work close to about ten hours a week, engaging in more hands-on material such as researching in labs, learning lab techniques, learning how to code, writing code, and more. 

Scripps-GEO has partnered with several San Diego community colleges in recruiting students for the program: Mesa College, San Diego City College, Mira Costa College, Southwestern College, and Miramar College. Geoscience and STEM colleagues at these colleges assist Scripps in identifying and encouraging students that may be a good fit for the program. These students may not necessarily be involved in geosciences already, but show interest and a desire to learn in these fields.

“I'm thrilled to be a Scripps-GEO program community partner,” said Donald Barrie, a geology professor at Mesa College. “By creating earth science internship opportunities for community college students, the program is changing lives. Doing real science with world-class professors in well-equipped labs allows our students to experience the thrill of discovery first-hand, in a supportive environment. This kind of experience is transformative.”

We caught up with a few members of the 2022 GEO-Scholars cohort, to learn about their experience in the program.


Hanif Wright is currently attending Mesa College located in San Diego, Calif., and majoring in biology. The Los Angeles native is passionate about all things involving the outdoors.

explorations now: Why were you interested in coming to Scripps for this opportunity?

Hanif Wright: I was interested in coming to Scripps because the internship sounded really cool. I have always had a growing interest in geosciences, particularly atmospheric and marine biology, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to gain experience in them at an amazing institution like Scripps.

en: What areas of geoscience are you interested in? What are you studying?

HW: I have always been interested in marine biology, climatology and atmospheric sciences. In elementary school, I remember that speakers would visit us to talk about climate change and how it would create major change in the world in the next 50 years. Since then, I became interested in the study of the climate. It led me to some of my favorite documentaries and movies: The Day After Tomorrow, The 11th Hour, and Chasing Ice. I even began volunteering in elementary school, picking up trash on my local beaches. For marine biology, I think that started when my family took a trip to Monterey Bay when I was also in elementary school. It was for my mother’s work conference, and I remember how much I loved driving next to the ocean. After my mother’s conference, she took us to the aquarium—it was like love at first sight! Getting to see all the different animals (penguins, otters, starfish, etc.) grew my interest in almost all things related to the ocean.

I also have a growing interest in volcanic oceanography. Right now, I’m currently studying water reclamation and algal biotechnology applications with Scripps Oceanography researcher Greg Mitchell.

en: How has your experience been so far? What is your favorite part about the program?

HW: My experience so far has been great! It’s been off to a slow start due to COVID-19 precautions, but overall I’m enjoying it and have met some really nice and interesting people. My favorite part about the program has been the seminars. It’s helpful hearing people come in to talk about their professions in the geosciences, as well as the road to get there. I also appreciate how welcoming my mentor is to me and my fellow mentee. He creates a comfortable atmosphere where we’re not afraid to ask questions.

en: What do you hope to gain from this experience?

HW: What I hope to gain from this program is research experience and insight into the geosciences world. In high school, professions in the geosciences weren’t really presented to me, so getting to see all these different professions and what they do on a day to day basis is awesome!


Joel Hurtado is currently attending San Diego City College and majoring in physics and geology. Before beginning his journey as a community college student, Hurtado was enlisted in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program for six years in San Diego, where he learned to become a mechanic for the Navy on aircraft carriers.

explorations now: Why were you interested in coming to Scripps for this opportunity?

Joel Hurtado: I began community college right before the pandemic, as a physics student in Fall 2019. I only recently added geology as an area of study. When I learned about this program from a professor at Miramar College, I thought it would be a great opportunity to gain some exposure in research.

en: What areas of geoscience are you interested in? What are you studying?

JH: I’m working with my mentor, Scripps observational seismologist Wenyuan Fan, and fellow GEO program participant Nic Donnellan in a seismology project. Dr. Fan is giving us a crash course on seismology and geophysics. We’re working to recreate his study on foreshocks for the 2019 Ridgecrest Earthquake, to identify patterns that may be indicative of foreshocks cascading into main shock earthquake events. After we learn to do that using the programming application Python and data from the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) public database, we’ll apply the same or similar techniques for other earthquake events. My current interests in the geosciences are still broad, though the last few weeks of working on earthquakes have been interesting.

en: How has your experience been so far? What is your favorite part about the program?

JH: I’ve really enjoyed receiving mentorship from scientists in a field that interests me. The SIO 65 seminar led by Jane Terranes has exposed me to various speakers that I can relate to, going from community college, to grad school and academia. My favorite part so far has been working with Nic. He comes from a more geology-oriented background, already working full time in the field while in community college. My strengths are more in the physics and analytical side of things, but we work well together complimenting each other's knowledge gaps as we make progress on our project.

en: What do you hope to gain from this experience?

JH: I’ve already applied to transfer to a UC, and am anxiously awaiting to hear back. I’m now thinking about what my next steps are, and grad school just seems to make the most sense for me, given my interest in research. I hope that between the networking, soft skills, and hard skills that I gain through the program, I am setting myself up to be a competitive candidate for grad school.


Isidora Rojas is currently attending San Diego City College and majoring in engineering. Rojas served as a meteorology and oceanography (METOC) analyst in the Navy for six years, and now interns in Scripps marine biologist Melissa Carter’s lab.

explorations now: Why were you interested in coming to Scripps for this opportunity?

Isidora Rojas: I was interested in the Scripps-GEO program because I felt it was a good opportunity to see what the day to day life of a research geoscientist looks like. I have been interested in pursuing research, and this has allowed me to affirm how I can play a role in benefiting the geoscience community. 

en: What areas of geoscience are you interested in? What are you studying?

IR: As of right now, I am most interested in physical oceanography. For Scripps-GEO, I have been in Melissa Carter’s lab learning about coastal ocean observation systems, and more specifically, harmful algal bloom sampling. We also focus on types of planktons and the importance of monitoring the biological makeup of our coastal waters. I would’ve never thought how fascinating it is to watch the behaviors of plankton under a microscope.

en: How has your experience been so far? What is your favorite part about the program?

IR: My experience has been fantastic so far. I have found it incredibly rewarding to be amongst people who are passionate about their field of work, and who are so willing to share about the science that they are working on. I’d say that being among passionate researchers has been my favorite part overall. Another huge perk, of course, is working on the beautiful Scripps Pier and watching the ocean all day.

en: What do you hope to gain from this experience?

IR: My main hope from this opportunity is to gain more insight into what I truly desire as far as my academic and professional pursuits. This program has helped guide the direction that I see myself going because it has exposed me to what my future could look like. 


Applications for the inaugural cohort of Scripps-GEO participants were collected in late 2021. For those interested in applying to future cohorts, contact Jane Teranes for more information.

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