SOA La Academia Latinoamericana (The Latinamerican SOA Academy) is an online course developed and managed by SOA through SOA Peru, in coordination with the Hispanoamerica Hub network in Ecuador, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia.
It educates Spanish-speaking young people interested in ocean conservation through seminars conducted by experts, multimedia educational content, and weekly assignments.
Over the past two weekends, I have attended a portion of the lectures and want to share first-hand what La Academia is all about. La Academia is unique in that it allows youth to develop their scientific knowledge while also developing important leadership skills such as communication, political involvement, and emotional intelligence.
When I first stopped by, Dr. Michelle Graco, an Argentinian oceanography professor and climate change researcher based in Peru, was giving a lively lecture on ocean acidification. Her lecture dove into scientific concepts including the Keeling Curve, ocean chemistry basics explaining how CO2 changes the ocean’s PH, ocean stratification, upwelling, the thermohaline circulation, and more. As Dr. Graco lectured, I noticed that students were attentively listening and asking thoughtful and rigorous questions in the chat. SOA Peru leaders fielded the questions and fostered an interactive environment by asking students to unmute their mics so that they could personally pose their questions.
Students are also given a chance to put their learning into applied practice. Tatiana Villalobos, the Costa Rican co-founder of Raising Coral, gave a lesson on the importance of coral ecosystems and best practices when leading a restoration initiative.
Students were then divided into groups and instructed to contemplate the environmental, economic, and social aspects that must be taken into consideration when designing a coral restoration project. Not only does this provide real-world context of the intersecting perspectives that must be kept in mind in ocean sustainability efforts, but students are also able to brainstorm and collaborate with peers from neighboring countries.
Along the same vein, I noticed that by having students from a multitude of Latin American countries, professors could reference case studies from various countries that resonated with students. Some students would even offer their own country’s perspective via the chat or drop links to relevant articles and reports.
This type of collaborative learning and resource-sharing space is exactly what is needed to foster young ocean leaders that will take collective action to solve the biggest problems that our oceans and planet face.
Finally, I would be remiss to not mention that jokes and laughs were interspersed throughout the classes. As the All We Can Save anthology has recently reminded us, leaders need both power and joy to make transformational change and to stay in the difficult work of finding solutions to the climate crisis. I am happy to report that the final class of the academy will be a “Fiesta La Academia” where participants will celebrate all they have learned, the community they have created, and how to move forward.
You can view all professors in the first Academia 8-week session here. Contact SOA Peru if you're interested in joining the next La Academia seminar beginning in May.
If you have a project like the academy that could use some support, apply for an SOA Microgrant before May 31st.