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Opportunity and Life Choices Coming Together at Ocean Connectors

By Mandy Shefman, Ocean Connectors Development Manager 

Do you ever wonder, “what if?” Reflecting back, I’ve realized there are moments in my life where a choice impacted my future more than I could have anticipated. Two of these moments were “yes” moments and one was a “no” moment. These choices led me to where I am today, having recently joined the Ocean Connectors team as Development Manager. Here is my story, and why I deeply appreciate the environmental education programs that Ocean Connectors provides.

Moment Number One

Mandy throwing discus in high school.

Moment number one came during childhood, and it changed my life surprisingly and significantly. I was a dedicated gymnast, working out six days a week for four hours every day. In the sixth grade, I dislocated my knee on beam and the road to recovery was long. My knee injury eventually led me to try out for the track team, where I was encouraged to try shot put and discus. 

This led to throwing in high school where I had an amazing coach. I broke all of the school district’s women’s discus records. I was ranked in the top 10 in the nation. My high school even named an award after me, The Shefman Award, which continues to be passed on to female track athletes who show dedication, focus, and excellence in track and field. I earned a four-year throwing scholarship at the University of Arizona, and I ranked in the top 10 at the Pac 10 championships for shot put, discus and hammer every year. Throwing had a huge impact on my life.

Moment Number Two

Moment number two came in high school. I randomly chose to go to a camp and one of my electives was ceramics. The experience left me wanting more. In college, I minored in studio art and excelled at clay hand-building. My interest in ceramics led me to follow opportunities in visual arts, and this contributed to my passion for arts education.

Moment Number Three

Moment number three is an area I chose not to pursue at the time, but in reflection I wonder, “what if?” In fourth grade, my heart was set on saving the planet. I wore Earth Day shirts and for my 10th birthday, I had an Earth Day-themed party and planted a tree in my backyard. In sixth grade, I signed up for an afterschool environmental program. I remember how excited I was! Unfortunately, I was disappointed when we were asked to sell cookies so we could donate towards an environmental cause. This was not what I had in mind for saving the earth, and I didn’t go back. 

Looking Back

I wonder now, what if Ocean Connectors had been at my elementary school? What if we’d had field trips with hands-on experiences focused on environmental education? Given my interest at the time, I think I may have pursued an environmental career path and Ocean Connectors might have been the “yes” moment that changed my life.

All of these moments led me to where I am today. I am beyond grateful that I am now part of Ocean Connectors, where we make environmental education available to third through seventh-grade students in National City, California and Nayarit, Mexico, for children who might not otherwise receive these impactful opportunities. Through the Ocean Connectors programs, our students can experience their own “yes” moment, and I am thrilled to be part of such an amazing, life-changing opportunity!


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