Diversity Scholarship 

Recreational scuba diving is a privileged sport. Training costs money, the gear is expensive, getting to dive sites adds up.

Reports have found that 68.4% of divers are Caucasian (Zippia ), 60% male, and 66% are college graduates. Each of these demographics are considered privileged and can be additive. In a 2018 and 2019 report, it was found that 64% of scuba divers earn more than $75, 000 per year (Scubanomics), with a total household income of over $100,000 (DEMA ). For those who continue to go on in their diving education, “70% earn above 100K” (Scubanomics ).

Many researchers cannot participate in the scientific diving training that they need due to the fact that they simply cannot afford to get their Open Water Scuba Certification. We look to offer those a chance to get an assist with this first major hurdle.

Who would this be for? This scholarship is targeted to those from underrepresented groups in diving, based on personal background, as demonstrated by a variety of factors, including but not limited to, educational experience, socioeconomic background, cultural heritage, race and ethnicity, and geographic origin AND:
- Who need scientific diver certification for their research but first need the prerequisite open water certification and whose institutions do not offer open water certification courses.
- Those interested in pursuing a scientific diver certification for volunteering or a technical position.
- Those interested in becoming a scientific diver within the aquarium or organizational member with which they are currently associated.

How does the scholarship work?
- The AAUS Scholarship Chair, along with the AAUS Foundation scholarship and diversity committees will choose a winner based on their application.  Note: This is a need-based scholarship.
- The Foundation provides payment directly to the dive shop of recipients choosing for an open water scuba course including online modules, confined water dives, open water dives, gear rental for the course, processing fees,
and personal mask, fins, and snorkel. 
-Foundation to provide a one-year DAN Master Plan.

Applicants Must:
-Be an AAUS member (join at www.aaus.org/join) If you are not currently a member and membership poses a financial hardship, please contact the AAUS office for a waiver ([email protected]).
Must be connected to an AAUS Organizational Member such as:

  • Graduate students whose thesis/dissertation work involved diving.
  • Undergraduate volunteers participating in research.
  • Aquarium volunteers or employees who would like to include diving in their job duties.

-Provide a one-page personal statement must include:

  • Statement of self-identification as a member of a traditionally underrepresented group who, under normal circumstances, may not receive scuba diving instruction or would struggle due to financial barriers or other hardships.
  • Reason for applying. May include description of planned research or work/volunteer time that could require scientific diving, applicable involvement in extracurricular activities, community service or other work experience.

-Provide a Letter of Recommendation from faculty or mentor.
- Signature of institutional DSO confirming they will continue on to scientific diver training.
- Complete online application. (find under Apply Now tab)

NOTE: Basic watermanship skills and swimming ability are a prerequisite for an Open Water Scuba Diving course. Applicants should be comfortable in the water.

Once scholarship is awarded, applicant must:
- Provide up to three suggested dive shops for the Open Water course including cost. Assistance available from a DSO in the region of the applicant in finding a reputable dive shop/instructor to complete the training.
- After the experience, submit a short bio/summary of experience for publication and promotion of this scholarship.

Current Scholars

Miya Felder
National Association of Black Scuba Divers Foundation 
1st Place Diversity Award

Miya Felder, a second-year undergraduate student pursuing her degree in Agriculture with a concentration in Environmental science at Virginia State University (VSU), is an U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 1890 National Scholar and a member of VSU Honors College.  She is a member of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) and the first-place recipient of the AAUS Foundation Scholarship.

Miya is a graduate of North Point High School Biotechnology Career Technology Education program (Charles County, Maryland).  She developed a growing interest in Marine Biology through her involvement in her high school’s National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Guardian club.  Jumpstarting her college experience, Miya completed coursework at College of Southern Maryland, participated in Saint Francis University Outreach Biology Program, and completed the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Geosciences Program.

Additionally, Miya has participated in diverse activities both in and outside of school.  As a participant of Key club and the local Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Gems program, Miya participated in a variety of volunteer activities within her local area. She served as a Soil Conservationist Intern for the Charles County Maryland NRCS and was selected as the Maryland State National Resource Conservation Soil (NRCS) student representative.  

Allyson Sawkins 
University of California, Santa Cruz
2nd Place Diversity Award

I was born and raised in San Gabriel, California. Like many of us, I became fascinated with the ocean from a very young age. The first time I went snorkeling, the great diversity of fish I saw took my breath away, and I immediately fell in love with the underwater ecosystem. My parents noticed my intrinsic love for the ocean early on. My dad encouraged me to turn this passion into a career because “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Following his advice, I studied Marine Biology as an undergraduate at University of California, San Diego. Last year I began my Ph.D. under advisor Dr. Giacomo Bernardi in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at University of California, Santa Cruz. 

In our lab, we study the molecular ecology of marine fishes using genetic and genomic techniques. For my dissertation, I will be studying the comparative population genetics of several fish species between California and the Sea of Cortez, which will involve diving in both of these locations. I will be working with researcher Carlos Sanchez-Ortiz and Mexican graduate students in La Paz, Mexico through Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS). I plan to use the AAUS Diversity Scholarship to get Open Water certified and continue onto my Scientific Diver certification through my university.  

I’m immensely grateful for the funding I’ve received that has allowed me to follow my most genuine passion. While I love being a part of the scientific community, there are undoubtedly financial and social barriers to entry. I faced many difficulties getting to where I am today due to financial hardship and food insecurity. Still, I’ve managed to make my dreams a reality despite these difficulties. It is such an honor to receive the 2021 AAUS Diversity Scholarship; it means more than I can put into words. I hope to be an example of what is possible for students coming from adverse backgrounds when we work hard and stay persistent.