Finding NEMO in Washington, D.C.

NOAA and partners work together to inspire the next generation of ocean scientists in the nation’s capital

The demographic makeup of the United States is changing, but minorities continue to be underrepresented in the sciences. Helping to bridge this gap, a small NOAA program called NEMO (NOAA Enrichment in Marine Sciences and Oceanography) brings together NOAA scientists, teachers, and local partners to provide students in Washington, D.C.’s diverse, inner city public schools (DCPS) with mentors and unique opportunities to learn about the ocean sciences.

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Students from Mckinley Technology Middle School take water samples from the Potomac River to assess river health while participating in an instructional boat trip offered by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and NOAA Fisheries.


The program began as a one-year effort in 2007 to help DCPS field its first-ever team in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) program, a national academic competition for high school students in the ocean sciences. Nearly 10 years later, NEMO has reached several hundred students from 10 DCPS schools, and Nineteen DCPS teams have participated in the NOSB.

NEMO consists of after-school activity sessions led by teachers and field trips coordinated by NOAA and its partners. In 2016, students from McKinley Technology Middle School participated in several activities as part of NEMO, including a boat trip to study the Potomac River ecosystem with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a squid dissection with the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, a hands-on exercise to build buoys with the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Program Office, and an exploration of the Smithsonian Ocean Hall along with a tour of the NOAA Fisheries National Systematics Laboratory.

Participating students have also brushed elbows with leaders in the ocean science community. They have discussed ocean health and fisheries with NOAA Fisheries Chief Science Advisor Dr. Richard Merrick, toured the U.S. Naval Observatory with former Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy, Rear Admiral David Gove, met with Dr. Don Walsh, who co-piloted the only manned descent to the deepest part of the ocean, Challenger Deep, and asked Philippe Cousteau (grandson of Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau and co-founder and president of EarthEcho International) about his many undersea explorations.

The program depends on close partnerships with teachers, local organizations, scientists who serve as mentors, and NOAA staff. Program evaluation data show students experience many “firsts” through NEMO, such as a first time on a boat. NEMO has also sparked students’ interest to further explore marine science, college studies, and STEM careers.

Zaire Garrett, one of NEMO’s first participants from 2007, recently graduated with a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Rhode Island, and reflected on his NEMO experience. “If they [students] haven’t decided on a career, [NEMO] opens up a lot of ideas for what you might want to do in your life and is a really great start.”

Remembering Sarah Tilman


The success of the NEMO program relies on the passion and hard work of teachers in the D.C. public school system (DCPS). Sarah Tilman was a biology teacher at Wilson High School in Washington, D.C. who helped start the NEMO program. Sadly, Sarah passed away in February 2009 at the age of 27 just two weeks before her students were to compete in the 2009 Chesapeake Bay Bowl, a regional NOSB competition. Read More


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Students explore deep sea fishes at the NOAA National Systematics Laboratory with Dr. Tom Munroe


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Former NEMO student Zaire Garrett tosses a seine net to collect fish samples in a Maryland coastal bay.