Coastal Marine Biolabs Leverages Edison Support to Obtain Two Prestigious Federal Awards

Seed funding from Edison International reaps huge return of investment in science education for students.

October 15, 2014 | By Susan Cox

Two time’s the charm.

When Coastal Marine Biolabs in Ventura Harbor announced a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health earlier this year to launch a five-year, pre-college research education program, Edison International was credited with helping to make the windfall possible.

The National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership Award marks the second time that initial corporate funding from Edison International to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education has paid off — and big — for Coastal Marine Biolabs and its students.

“The $1.1 million National Institutes of Health award is the second instance where Edison funds were leveraged by Coastal Marine Biolabs to secure larger scale federal funding to enhance science literacy,” said Ralph Imondi, Ph.D., executive director of Coastal Marine Biolabs Integrative Biosciences Program.  

The five-year project will engage high school students in groundbreaking research centered on nervous system development and spinal cord “hardwiring.”

Prior to the National Institutes of Health award, Coastal Marine Biolabs received a nearly $1 million grant from the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program of the National Science Foundation to expand a project that also received initial support from Edison International. With a footprint in over 75 California cities and 20 U.S. states spanning both coasts, including Alaska and Hawaii, the project has reached national status in just a few short years.

According to Imondi, uptake of the program by a national network of teachers and students is just one metric of success. “The program’s ability to enhance science literacy, stimulate interest in science careers and motivate changes in science teaching practices is backed by rigorous assessment data collected by our evaluation team.”

The new National Institutes of Health award will expand the impact and scope of NeuroLab, another pilot project initially launched by Coastal Marine Biolabs with a one-year, $25,000 grant from Edison International. That pilot effort — which blends neuroscience research and science education — helped raise scientific and technological literacy among high school students across Southern California, including economically disadvantaged students.

The program has had a major influence on students, especially those who were “on the fence” about science and technology careers when they first entered the Coastal Marine Biolabs after participating in NeuroLab.

“Students almost unanimously regarded their participation in the project as a transformative experience that left them with an enduring passion for science,” said Linda Santschi, Ph.D., Coastal Marine Biolabs’ scientific co-director and a primary investigator on the National Institutes of Health project.

According to Santschi, students generate and share real scientific data as they learn firsthand how different scientific fields intersect, and as they apply groundbreaking technologies, take ownership of their learning and make a real investment in using science to benefit people and the environment.

“Relevance and authenticity are core program elements that connect students to their world and impart meaning to their efforts,” said Santschi. “By giving students an opportunity to contribute real scientific data, we see an entirely different level of engagement that has a profound impact on the hearts and minds of our students.”

The win-win partnership between Edison International and Coastal Marine Biolabs has garnered praise from both educators and scientists, and shows that the annual $25,000 grants were a worthwhile investment in the future of science education.

“At Edison International, we believe that education is critical to maintaining and growing a vibrant society,” said Tammy Tumbling, director of Philanthropy and Community Investment at Southern California Edison (SCE), a subsidiary of Edison International. “We focus our educational funding on preparing students to excel in science, technology, engineering and math and to promote the inclusion of underrepresented students in these academic fields. As an energy company, we recognize STEM skills are needed for our future workforce and for the advancement of our country.”

As Santschi notes, “The programs developed with initial seed funds from Edison International are now recognized by federal funding sponsors as powerful new models to address science education reform, including a new set of performance expectations embodied by the Next Generation Science Standards.”

Some of the innovative web-based resources developed in connection with Coastal Marine Biolabs’ projects are now being used by high school, college and university students in more than five countries.  In fact, science educators in Australia, Canada, China, India and the Philippines have all expressed interest in the biolabs’ programming. 

As the recipient of two of the nation’s most prestigious federal awards for science education, Coastal Marine Biolabs now looks forward to expanding and diversifying its educational activities in provocative new directions.

“Organizations like Coastal Marine Biolabs rely on the nonprofit counterparts of ‘angel investors,’” said Santschi. “The rapid strides that we’ve made in pursuit of our educational mission to transform life science teaching and learning would not have been possible without the generous support of Edison International, which represents a sort of ‘angel investor’ for Coastal Marine Biolabs, especially during its formative years. 

She added, “It’s really been a powerful collaboration.”