As the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the Brookings Institution recently outlined in Future of Growth in San Diego: The Economic Case for Inclusion and Building San Diego’s Talent Pipeline, San Diego has grown to become an innovation powerhouse.

Despite this great potential, not all San Diegans are benefiting from the advances of the innovation economy. The San Diego region needs more highly-skilled workers in order to maintain its competitive edge. Inclusive economic growth involves the entire region in a vision for prosperity.

By focusing on young adults, we have the opportunity to strengthen the workforce of the near future. Not all students have the opportunity to explore and pursue STEM-related fields that lead to innovation economy jobs and a robust, diverse talent pool for local businesses.

San Diego is not alone, nationally we face the same challenge and have a similar opportunity for growth. The National Science Foundation defines women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minority groups as underrepresented in science and engineering.

In order to address this disparity and ensure our region remains competitive, the San Diego Foundation (SDF) Science & Technology Program awarded $632,934 in grants last year to 10 local programs that strengthen San Diego’s innovation economy by building and expanding pathways to success for all San Diegans.

Combined, the grants provided 30,991 hours of paid internships for 303 young San Diegans, most of whom reported that they wouldn’t have been able to gain access to the STEM internship opportunities and companies if it wasn’t for the support of the Science & Technology program.

Equity Through Opportunity

One of the programs deepening the impact of STEM investment in San Diego was Ocean Discovery Institute.

The organization’s Ocean Leaders Program provides City Heights high school students a pathway from science and conservation literacy to careers in STEM fields. Leaders pair hands-on research with mentoring and practical work experiences.

Ocean Discovery Institute program alumnus, Jared Ocampo, and 11th grader Benny Gonzales, celebrate the culmination of their summer research experience.

Through this program, students receive case management, academic coaching, mentorship, and stipend-supported internships and fellowships. Ocean Discovery Institute and partners, including University of San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and RECON Environmental, also provide internship and mentorship opportunities to participants.

One success story is Ocean Leader Jorge. Jorge, whose parents did not graduate from high school, participated in the Ocean Discovery Institute program and quickly discovered his love of science. Today, Jorge has since graduated from the University of California-Berkley with a degree in environmental science and after obtaining an internship with Ocean Discovery Institute partner and local environmental firm KP Environmental, he has taken on a full-time role as a biologist with the company. Thanks to his success, he has tripled his family’s income and his siblings are now following in his footsteps.

Against a national backdrop where only 10 percent of low-income, first-generation college students earn a college degree, 70 percent of Ocean Leaders participants graduate from college, most with a degree in science or conservation-related fields.

Jorge is one of the many stories that demonstrate the potential of our youth when given the opportunity.

Long-Term Investment

By opening more pathways for local youth to become tomorrow’s leading scientists, engineers and innovators, SDF is strengthening the future of San Diego’s economy and quality of life for all communities.

Support the future of our youth and our innovation economy