Gazebo Gazette

The Marine Education Center (MEC) at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) received a prestigious Gulf Guardian Award during the Gulf of Mexico Conference held April 25-28 in Baton Rouge, La. The MEC project, “A Classroom Course in Community Resilience,” captured First Place for Youth Engagement.

Community Resilience in the Classroom is an educational program developed by USM and the Mississippi Alabama Sea Grant Consortium with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Bay Watershed Education and Training (NOAA B-WET) program. Staff of the MEC and Sea Grant partnered with /local K-12 teachers to promote student awareness of watersheds and their connections to the Gulf of Mexico through classroom and field instruction in climate change and rising sea level, especially high tide flooding and increased storm surge.

Since 2016, approximately 1,000 students from 12 schools in Mississippi and Alabama have completed the program. Selected teams have competed in six Stewardship Summits judged by several dozen community resilience professionals. In 2020 the full program of teacher training and classroom implementation was successfully completed online.

“Students who complete the community resilience project know about hurricanes but may not have thought about specific challenges communities need to prepare for, like getting relief supplies across town to an isolated community when roads are blocked. After students complete their team project, they get it,” said Dr. Jessie Kastler, MEC Director. “It’s a pleasure to see how they own their solutions and it’s an honor for our program to be recognized with a Gulf Guardian Award.”

The Gulf of Mexico Program initiated the Gulf Guardian awards in 2000 to recognize and honor the businesses, community groups, individuals, and agencies that are taking positive steps to keep the Gulf healthy, beautiful, and productive. First, second and third place awards are given in seven categories: individual, business/industry, youth environmental education, civic/nonprofit organizations, cultural diversity/environmental justice, partnership, and bi-national efforts.

MEC Project Specialist Samantha Capers, who taught previously at St. Martin Middle School in Ocean Springs, echoed Kastler’s sentiments.

“It is exciting to be part of the development team for this teacher resource that allows students to participate in their community in a meaningful way,” she said.

The Gulf of Mexico Program began in 1988 to protect, restore, and maintain the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem in economically sustainable ways. The Gulf of Mexico Program is underwritten by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is a non-regulatory, inclusive consortium of state and federal government agencies and representatives of the business and agricultural community, fishing industry, scientists, environmentalists, and community leaders from all five Gulf States.

The Gulf Program seeks to improve the environmental health of the Gulf in concert with economic development.

The Marine Education Center at USM’s Cedar Point site in Ocean Springs serves as the education and outreach arm of the School of Ocean Science and Engineering.

The center promotes understanding of coastal and marine science within the public sector and provides the tools coastal residents can use to become more effective stewards and advocates for the Gulf of Mexico through innovative, field-based educational experiences.

To learn more about the MEC’s “A Classroom Course in Community Resiliency,” visit: