By Frances Lang, Ocean Connectors Executive Director
I have spent most of my life working to protect the natural resources of Southern California and the Pacific coast. Drawing from my own experiences during childhood, I have always believed in the power of environmental education to shape the way we feel about nature, to transcend international borders, and to bring people together. This is why it has been so rewarding to carry out the Ocean Connectors mission to educate, inspire, and connect youth in underserved Pacific coastal communities through the study of migratory marine life. I have witnessed the life-changing moments that can occur when humans are able to connect with the ocean and wildlife. I will never forget the time I stepped off the Flagship whale watching boat after leading an Ocean Connectors field trip, and one of our fifth grade students looked me in the eye and told me it was the best day of his life.
When I was hired by Pro Peninsula in 2007, I had just received my undergraduate degree and recently moved to San Diego, California. I had never worked for a nonprofit before, but I learned quickly under the mentorship of my visionary colleagues. I was charged with taking over an environmental education project that connected local students with experts from the NOAA Marine Turtle Research Program (pictured above). The project included field trips to the NOAA sea turtle research site on the shores of San Diego Bay, where our sixth grade students were able to interact with real scientists and observe the green sea turtle research taking place right in their own “backyard”. It was an unforgettable opportunity, provided to youth in some of the most at-risk and underserved communities in all of San Diego County.
With these types of experiences propelling me, I developed new programs reaching students from Alaska to the tip of the Baja California peninsula, and eventually to Nayarit, Mexico. I forged partnerships with diverse stakeholders such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Port of San Diego, and many local nonprofits. My responsibilities expanded from leading classroom presentations and field trips to organizational development and strategic planning. I learned a great deal about grant writing, project management, leadership, and program evaluation. Ocean Connectors joined The Ocean Foundation in 2009, and from there I watched it grow from a small, grassroots project into a strong and impactful organization.
The Next Chapter
After more than 14 years, it is bittersweet to be stepping down from my role at Ocean Connectors at the end of this month. This position helped me discover my passion for education, and that passion has become my calling. I have seen firsthand the curiosity and fascination all students have for ocean science, their delight and excitement to participate in coastal recreation, how they are eager to positively change their own behaviors, and their remarkable capacity to influence others. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to work alongside amazing team members, devoted mentors, passionate teachers, and generous partners. I will carry these joyful memories with me as I explore the next chapter of my career at The Ocean Foundation.
As I reflect back on this incredible journey, I am reminded of the words of Denzel Washington, who shared in his commencement address at Dillard University in 2015, “Don’t just aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.” Ocean Connectors has made a difference in the lives of thousands of students, and I am excited to watch its continued success under new leadership.
Stay in touch with Frances in her new role at firstname.lastname@example.org.