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Creating an African American Scholarship Program

By Anthony Brown
min read

In Long Beach, Calif., the Aquarium of the Pacific’s African American Scholar program was launched in September 2020 to create meaningful opportunities that recognize and support African American students pursuing careers in aquarium fields.

Knowing that African Americans are severely underrepresented in marine sciences, we wanted to be a leader in helping to increase the number of African Americans in this community. The scholarship is an effective way to identify students, learn about their accomplishments and needs, create meaningful dialogues, and support their success. The program also allows the students to learn about our initiatives, present ideas, and engage with our staff in their areas of interest. 

The process to identify and form these relationships started with these actions: formulation of the scholarship program; forming a selection committee; informing the community of the scholarship opportunity; collecting applications; creating a rubric system to apply towards candidate submissions; securing scholarship funds from donors; and developing additional initiatives to engage students.

The Aquarium’s Board of Directors and staff, donors, and community leaders have contributed to enable the first-year funding of $100,000. These donations allowed our Aquarium to award ten $10,000 scholarships. Aquarium staff has also poured resources into this initiative to facilitate its success.

My experience with the program has been truly rewarding. I appreciate our Aquarium embracing the scholarship idea that inevitably is connecting this institution with wonderful students who will help shape the future of marine science. 

I had the pleasure of serving on the committee, assisting with the details of the application process, reviewing the applications, addressing questions, scoring candidates, communicating the awards, and encouraging students to apply for the next round. I can honestly say, I underestimated the impact we would make with this award.

Once I began calling recipients, I quickly realized how meaningful this acknowledgement was to them. I had the opportunity to spend time communicating how inspired and impressed we were with their accomplishments. I learned how each of these students developed their passion for marine science. I also listened to them express some of their past struggles with funding and inclusion and gleaned how our support would make an impact on their future.

All of the students expressed a tremendous amount of gratitude. There were many tears of joy among the group and a sense of relief, as these funds make a big impact on the economics of many of their academic careers.

This has been a wonderful experience for me. I am proud to be involved with an organization that pursued this diversity initiative without hesitation. The Aquarium is a leader in new ideas and programs. This is an example of this organization using its resources to do thing right thing in the hopes of a better community of thinkers to better the environment. I’m inspired by the students who shared their accomplishments and goals and who are paving the way for more African Americans in the field of marine sciences. My experience with this program is a career highlight I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Photo: Aquarium of the Pacific CFO Anthony Brown holding a sign with the African American Scholar Program recipients' names.

Anthony Brown is the chief financial officer at the Aquarium of the Pacific and committee lead for the African American Scholar Program.

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