Junior Scientists in the Sea (JSIS) is a year-round program that helps young people gain real-world job skills while fostering an interest in scuba diving, science, engineering, and the underwater world. Any student age 12 or older is welcome to participate. Founder Les Burke explains:
“Whether or not you are certified does not matter. If you cannot swim, we will teach you. If you want to stay on shore or in the boat, we still want you to join us. In addition to scuba diving, we have drones, remote operated submersibles and remote camera equipment. We have something for everyone.”
Les Burke became a PADI Instructor in 1983. Les spent 33 years in the Navy, including 28 as a Navy diver, and worked as a Navy diving instructor at the Naval Diving & Salvage Training Center in Florida. Altogether, Les has certified more than 2,000 divers at all levels of diving.
Les founded JSIS with the goal of creating new divers, scientists, and engineers with the skills and passion to protect the ocean. “JSIS is designed to expose kids to a meaningful, educational program combined with on-the-job training, hard work, and opportunities to solve real-world problems right in their own backyards. The new experiences, new places, new people, and new approach will create new hope, new ideas, and new attitudes. Instead of choosing from well-traveled, often-overcrowded trails, JSIS is blazing new ones,” Les explained.
JSIS activities can include:
Coral reef surveys and restoration initiatives
Fish and invertebrate identification
Invasive species surveys
Maritime heritage and underwater archaeology activities
Safe Boating and navigation classes
Public Speaking, communications, and “writing for a purpose” workshops
“Our programming is used by high school activity clubs and other after school programs, County Parks and Recreation, and as a stand-alone program at dive centers,” Les said.
Teresa McKinna VP/CFO Key Largo Undersea Park home of Jules’ Undersea Lodge said, “We love Les here at Jules’ Lagoon and his work with Junior Scientists. Les is one of the hardest working advocates for the education and betterment of our youth I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. His mind is always working and looking for new interest for his students.”
Why Become a JSIS Chapter?
“Training the next generation of aquatic stewards is key to the future of our industry and a great way for dive shops to give back to their community.” Les said. “If we don’t take care of the rivers, lakes and oceans, that source of livelihood could go away, and teaching SCUBA to under-represented and low-income youth can generate more return on the investment than is imagined. This kind of work is rewarding and can open other doors if done with passion and honor.”
“For the bottom-liners, JSIS is good for business. Junior Scientists are very active and as they improve their diving competency and level, they’ll need gear as things are lost or worn out,” Les explained. “JSIS can also complement community service requirements and attract more college-age divers.”
“We have empirical data showing parents will invest in their kids when they see them in an active program with educational and ecological benefits,” Les said. “And JSIS delivers results. We monitor our students’ grades (where allowed) and have found an across the board increase in 95% of our students. We also have 8 students now attending post-secondary programs.”
How PADI Dive Shops Can Become a JSIS Chapter
Many JSIS chapters started when dive center owners realized they had passionate young dive students and not enough for them to do. Whether you have an existing group of divers, or are looking to grow your business with youth programs, here’s what you need to know about starting a JSIS chapter:
– The first step is to contact Les to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between JSIS and the dive organization
– Monthly meetings are required (more frequent meetings are encouraged, but monthly is the minimum)
– All programs must be safe, ethical and legal
– JSIS encourages diversity among students and chapter leaders
JSIS recommends need-based free or reduced rate SCUBA instruction, but does not mandate it. JSIS partners with various organizations for activities and fundraising to support its chapters, and shares any grant money received. “The more kids we are serving, the more funding we are eligible for, so growth begets growth,” said Les.
For more information on becoming a JSIS chapter, contact Les Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about JSIS on PADI’s blog and connect with Junior Scientists in the Sea via their website or on Facebook.