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Lillian Boyd, Dana Point Times

Ocean Institute officials say the organization has much to be thankful for during this season of gratitude.

Throughout the pandemic, the educational nonprofit has introduced new programs to fit within parameters and restrictions. From online curriculums to “All Out(doors)” programming for families, to summer camps that offered big experiences on a small scale, officials say that the pandemic constraints inspired innovative new offerings.

The recent launch of Virtual Field Trips, during which classes participate in unique activities live from Ocean Institute, presented a new challenge.

“Demand exceeded our ability to supply,” said Dr. Wendy Marshall, President and CEO of Ocean Institute. “Within days of introducing our Virtual Field Trips, our schedule through the end of the year was full. Schools are simply starving for motivating real-world content that engages and inspires students.”

With donors removing financial barriers to the program for schools in need, Marshall says the Ocean Institute was flooded with interest that exceeded its ability to deliver. Unlike a pre-recorded video or large-scale webinar, Ocean Institute’s Virtual Field Trips were designed to be highly interactive, with only one class participating at a time.

“My students loved that they could use the chat box or talk directly to the instructor,” said Lindsay Riscalla, a fifth-grade teacher from Courreges Elementary in Fountain Valley.

But this small-scale approach limited the number of virtual field trips that could be offered each day.

“We quickly realized that our only obstacle to fulfilling all requests was equipment. We were just a few cameras and computers away from tripling the number of students we could reach each day,” said Marshall.

In recognition of this need, the Steinmetz Foundation is challenging the community to show support for the Ocean Institute. Between now and the end of December, the Steinmetz Foundation will match every dollar donated, up to the first $200,000. The funding will support the Virtual Field Trip programs, as well as other pandemic-proof programming.

The Ocean Institute is showcasing voices from a variety of stakeholders on its website at, as well as on social media every day between November 28 and December 31.

“Ocean Institute is a community icon, and we are thrilled to share the stories of our impact as told by the diverse beneficiaries and supporters,” said Marshall. “We have no doubt the community will rise to the challenge and help us exceed our match goal.”

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