Robin Dunbar’s mentoring philosophy identifies several strongly-held beliefs. For example, she believes that students benefit while learning in small intimate groups; each child should have his or her own investigative tools to acquire science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills; activities should include the arts and be multidisciplinary; reflection is essential to learning; and, youth of all ages are both innovative and creative and these youth should be included in leadership opportunities.
Ms. Dunbar has created a one-of-a-kind education vessel to address river pollution. In partnership with the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture and Engineering, Ms. Dunbar launched America’s Greenest Vessel, The Learning Barge, to mentor students to restore the Chesapeake Bay’s polluted Elizabeth River. Most children living in southeastern Virginia are from groups underrepresented in STEM, and from disadvantaged families. Although most children ride by the river daily in their school buses, most have never even touched the river water.
Unlike other learning platforms, the barge symbolizes the marriage of a working harbor and a living ecosystem where students can explore sustainable solutions to the river’s pollution. Students come aboard as junior scientists to perform an investigation. While rotating among six learning stations led by a deckhand educator, they engage in hands-on activities, gather data, and record results in data books. Each station is multi-disciplinary and reflects the Virginia Standards of Learning. Dunbar has also secured funding for more than 10,000 preschool and fourth grade students who qualify for free lunches at Title 1 schools to come to the barge.
To date, 64,296 youth and family members have participated in Barge-based learning activities. Mentoring comes into play with the 46 college graduates (62 percent women) who have served as deckhand educators for the learning stations. Under Ms. Dunbar’s wing, deckhands build impressive resumes. They leverage their STEM teaching skills to receive masters, professional, or doctoral degrees. She also created a new Riverwise program where retired seniors and maritime workers will also mentor the deckhand educators. This is a great example of how people of all ages can unite to make a difference in their communities and achieve extraordinary results for the STEM workforce.
Ms. Dunbar’s awards include:
- Ernie Morgan Award of Environmental Service, Norfolk Environmental Commission, 2003
- Environmental Excellence Award from Sea World Busch Gardens, 2011
- Governor’s Gold Award of Sustainable Environmental Excellence, 2014
- Virginia Environmental Excellence Award, 2015