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Marine education project from Innovation District, USF, Boys & Girls Clubs wins Smart Cities award

Margie Manning



Photo by Steve de Neef

Guardians of the Gulf, a St. Petersburg-based program for disadvantaged youth to learn about marine science, is among the 13 national winners of the IDC Smart Cities North America awards.

After a week of public voting, with more than 2,500 votes, the local program was named the winner in the sustainable infrastructure category, a news release said.

The awards are designed to recognize the progress North American communities have made in executing Smart Cities projects, as well as provide a forum for sharing best practices to help accelerate Smart City development, according to IDC, a market intelligence and advisory service.

Guardians of the Gulf is a collaboration between University of South Florida College of Marine Science, the St. Pete Innovation District and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast.  It leverages the power of technology to provide children with web-based educational experiences, such as news-style broadcasts from researchers in the field, gamified learning and real-time sensors including underwater cameras and drones.

It also gives underserved communities a voice in the dialogue surrounding escalating coastal threats.

“This award is a wonderful validation of the Guardians of the Gulf program,” said project leader Kristen Kusek, science communication strategist at USF College of Marine Science. “Challenges of coastal resiliency are not on their way; they are here. We are proud to launch this program with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast so we can that educate kids about the challenges and opportunities facing our precious coast, while also empowering them toward action.”

The program was chosen as a pilot effort after the Innovation District received a three-year grant from cable operator Spectrum, as the St. Pete Catalyst reported earlier. The  public-private partnership between Spectrum and the Innovation District is designed to develop smart, technology-driven strategies to address local needs relating to infrastructure, workforce development, public safety, education and community health.

Spectrum technologies that are used in the program include wireless point to point connectivity, WiFi, underwater equipment (HD cameras and drones) and a wireless sensor network that will broadcast real-time marine life back to the Boys & Girls Clubs.

“When we began the project last year, we focused on addressing two community challenges — building awareness/action of youth about our coastal community and encouraging youth to consider STEM careers. This project is a powerful example of the magic that occurs when you bring a diverse set of experts from different industries together to tackle a problem,” said Alison Barlow, executive director, St. Pete Innovation District.

“We are excited about the IDC Smart Cities award for the Guardians of the Gulf project. This award reinforces how unique and innovative the idea for this project was. We believe it will benefit youth for years in St Petersburg, and has the potential to scale around the country.”

Duke Energy Foundation provided a grant allowing the Guardians of the Gulf program to kick off over spring break. Organizers are working to raise an additional $65,000 to build educational materials for an expanded program, a fundraising flyer said.

The Innovations District is hosting an open house to see this project and others April 21. More information on the open house is here.


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    D'Lani Jean

    March 10, 2020 at 8:39 am

    Very exciting! Can’t wait to see the positive impact this may have on the children Boys and Girls Clubs and community.

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