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The Algae Foundation — looking back and moving forward

March 30, 2020 — by Ike Levine, Tiffany Cannis and Marissa Nalley

Algae Academy

In the 2019/2020 academic year, the Algae Academy reached 36,000 students in over 200 schools nationwide.

Editor’s note: In these turbulent times, when many educational programs are in limbo, we wondered what is happening to algae education? For a perspective, we asked leaders of the Algae Foundation how they are tracking the past and planning for the future. Following, in their words…

The Algae Foundation sees a future that embraces algae as an essential solution for a sustainable and healthy planet and our mission is to create that future through education, mentoring, and public outreach and engagement.

A 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Algae Foundation, was formed in late 2013 after a meeting among former Algae Biomass Organization board members Dr. Greg Mitchell of Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Dr. Philip Pienkos of the National Renewable Energy Lab, Dr. Amha Belay of Earthrise, Inc., Dr. Ike Levine of the University of Southern Maine, former executive director of the ABO Mary Rosenthal, Tom Byrne of Carlson SV, and Andy Braff of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati.  Together, the group represented decades of algal research and commercialization experience and envisioned an organization dedicated to all efforts surrounding algal-based education and training.

To accomplish this mission, the Foundation engages in and funds educational curriculum development for grades K-16+, finds and supports the development of future leaders of the algae industry through grants and scholarships, and works to promote algal-based literacy while increasing awareness of the benefits of algal biomass cultivation and commercialization.

Seven years after its founding, the Algae Foundation has served over 65,000 students, educators, adult learners, and bioeconomy enthusiasts through a variety of outreach and educational programming.

ATEC team

The ATEC team (click to enlarge).

Our greatest success, the Algae Technology Educational Consortium (ATEC), was developed in 2015 out of the recognition that algal production will create high quality jobs for an educated workforce due to the sustainable source of biomass for bio-based products, feed, fuel and foods. Currently in the fourth year of a seven-year, $3.7 million grant from the Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office (DOE BETO), ATEC’s goal is to produce novel community college courses, certificate and degree programs in algae cultivation and biotechnology, and a series of educational curricula that offers students (grades K-16+), aquaculturists, farmers, biotechnicians, and interested individuals a particular skill set enabling them to incorporate algae into their career pathways while establishing them as serious candidates for the next generation of bioeconomy positions and entrepreneurial opportunities.

The Foundation supports the development of the algal bioeconomy’s future leaders and aims to increase literacy and overall public awareness of the role that algae can and does play in the production of an array of commercial products (fuel, feed, food, nutraceuticals, and specialty chemicals), environmental services (nutrient extraction, ocean acidification remediation, oxygen production, carbon capture, and wastewater treatment), and the potential hazards of algae (red tides, toxins, and brown tides). Through algal education students learn practical applications of farming and biotechnology to produce a sustainable resource for human consumption while developing the skills to become algal industry professionals.

The ATEC program also includes the Algae Academy, a K-12 STEM kit distributed to classrooms nationwide through which students develop experiments, measure growth, analyze data and make connections on how algae production has a positive impact on the global environment. Students learn about the essential need for sustainable resources, current concerns about future protein shortages, and how algae can be a game-changing resource in developing countries. The goal of the Algae Academy is to excite students about the power of algae that will lead them towards more advanced educational opportunities offered by ATEC.

Algae Academy

The Algae Academy was first piloted with 300 students in one San Diego middle school in 2016. In 2017 the program grew to serve 5,000 students in California, Michigan and Ohio and continued to grow exponentially from year to year. In the 2019/2020 academic year, the Algae Academy reached 36,000 students in over 200 schools nationwide. Educators are provided with the lab supplies, curated curriculum, live algae and additional consumables, and necessary educator training and support to bring this hands-on opportunity to their students.

To further support Algae Academy educators, the Algae Foundation established the Summer Algae Science Institute (SASI) as a professional development opportunity for educators eager to learn more about the program before bringing it into their classroom. This two-day intensive training is supported by a three year, $150 thousand grant from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) to provide educator education that will develop an understanding of algae as both a living organism and as a food source, provide tools to implement new algal-based education into the classroom, offer insight into current and future jobs in the algae industry, and develop relationships with industry leaders. Participating educators receive continuing education credits and a free Algae Academy kit to serve their students the following academic year.

Algae Academy Map

The Algae Foundation continues to assess outreach and education efforts and is constantly working to create new programming that continues to move algae forward in the education space. The Foundation is supported by a variety of donors, corporations, and the departments of Energy and Agriculture, without which we could not have accomplished the following:

  • Algae Technology Educational Consortium (ATEC) – developing novel educational programs to strengthen industry workforce capabilities
  • Two separate community college degree, certificate, and course curricula for Algal Cultivation and Algal Biotechnology originated at Santa Fe Community College and Austin Community College, respectively
  • An Introduction to Algae Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)
  • Algae Cultivation Extension Short-courses (ACES) — Part 1: Macroalgae & Part 2: Microalgae
  • Algae Academy – K-12 STEM kits for in-class instruction and discovery
  • Mary Rosenthal Memorial Scholarships – to support students attending the Algae Biomass Organization Summit
  • Development of a clearing house for a corporate-based internship program

Our newest efforts include the sponsoring of state Science Fair prizes for algal research, the development of a digital skills badging program and Continuing Education training and assessment.

For more information about the Algae Foundation, please contact Marissa Nalley at Mnalley@thealgaefoundation.org.

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