The Guided Discoveries Story

CIMI Lab at Isthmus 1978Established in 1979, Guided Discoveries was the natural outgrowth of Ross and Kristi Turner's experience as schoolteachers taking students on science-related field trips. During these excursions, they began to realize the power of a fun and immersive science-based program. In 1976, Ross and Kristi took the leap and moved their young family to Catalina Island to run Camp Cherry Valley for the Boy Scouts and create the Marine Science Program of Cherry Cove.



1978 Young Ross 2By 1978, Ross and Kristi, along with long-time friends Steve Garrett (Board Chairperson) and Jerry Tambe, incorporated Guided Discoveries Inc. as a 501(c)(3) non-profit and began operations at the Isthmus in Two Harbors on Catalina Island. The sale of the Turners' house on the mainland became the seed money for this new program that they called the Catalina Island Marine Institute or CIMI (pronounced ‘see-me'). Ross, Kristi, and their small staff helped CIMI serve nearly 2,000 students during the 1978-79 school year.

Ross and Kristi evolved the ideas and programs from their school field trips by adding in the Catalina Island magic. This created new opportunities that allowed students and staff get excited about science and the environment. "Guided Discoveries" was chosen as the company name. "We knew that the process of exploration and discovery would have lifelong benefits in the children we served," Turner says. This concept was quickly adopted as the company's mission statement: "Making a Difference in the Lives of Children Through Unique Opportunities for Discovery."

1978 Kristi TurnerAs Guided Discoveries grew and evolved, a program paradigm emerged. The experience would be a hands-on educational adventure that was fun for the students. Small groups, plentiful scientific equipment, an emphasis on process over facts, and dedicated instructors hired for their natural teaching style became the hallmarks of the CIMI program. Focusing the curriculum on the resources of the island - like the protected bays perfect for snorkeling, and using live animals and algae during the labs - made the CIMI program a unique experience that could not be replicated in the classroom.

The move into Toyon Bay in 1979 provided the first permanent home for the CIMI program. The facility, a former boarding school, provided space for full time labs, a dedicated dive-locker, comfortable student dorms, staff apartments, full dining facilities, and a year-round office to manage the rapidly growing program. This growth included the first session of Catalina Sea Camp in the summer of 1980.

1989 Early AC Rockets, Blue Jay ProgramAs CIMI and Sea Camp programs continued to prosper, Guided Discoveries began to consider expansion and conducted its first AstroCamp pilot program in 1988. Using the same hands-on educational philosophy as the CIMI program, AstroCamp focused on astronomy and the physical sciences rather than the ocean. After spending 1989 at Camp Blue Jay and 1990 in Las Vegas, AstroCamp found its permanent home in Idyllwild, California, on the site of another former boarding school in 1991. This was also the inaugural year of the Astrocamp Summer Camp program.

The early 1990s also brought growth to the successful CIMI program. In 1990 Guided Discoveries was invited back to Camp Cherry Valley by the San Gabriel Council of the Boy Scouts of America to run a satellite CIMI program there during the school year.  In 1995 CIMI at 4th Of July Cove was created at the Fourth of July Yacht Club and became the second satellite CIMI Program for Guided Discoveries.

In the fall of 1999, the 4th Of July Cove program was moved to a larger facility when Guided Discoveries signed a sub-lease agreement with the Glendale YMCA to operate its CIMI program at their Camp Fox facility during the school year. The new CIMI at Fox Landing program was successful and in 2007 Guided Discoveries was awarded the primary lease for Camp Fox. It currently runs its CIMI programs there during the school year and manages and staffs the various YMCA programs that utilize the facility during the summer.

Additionally, in 1999 two CIMI instructors, proposed a unique CIMI program aboard a sailing vessel. After a few pilot programs, a full time school-year program aboard the chartered tall ship Pilgrim of Newport was established. In 2001 the CIMI Tall Ship Expeditions (CTSE) program found a permanent home when Guided Discoveries purchased the SSV Tole Mour, a 156-foot, 3-masted, square-topsail schooner. In 2002 CTSE added summer expeditions to its program lineup. Tole Mour is currently the largest sailing school vessel (SSV) on the West Coast.

Since 1979, Guided Discoveries has also operated other unique programs, both nationally and internationally.

  • Anacapa Island Summer Expedition, 1979
  • Avalon Marine Interpretive Center, 1983-1988
  • Bahia de Los Angeles Student Expedition, 1987-1988
  • Ocean Day Camp with Oceanic Society, Marina del Rey, 1995
  • CIMI at Bahia de Los Angeles with the Crane School, 1990-1994
  • Sea Camp Expedition: Belize, 2000 and 2001
  • Sea Camp Expedition: Costa Rica, 2005
  • Sea Camp Belize on Ambergris Caye, 2010

In 2012, Guided Discoveries proudly served its 1,000,000th Student and continues to serve more than 48,000 students annually with its unique, hands-on, experiential science programs. As the employees and clients have turned Ross and Kristi Turner's original dream into reality, the Guided Discoveries' vision continues to expand as it considers other exciting opportunities to make a positive difference in the lives of children.

The Guided Discoveries Legacy

The Kids

Guided Discoveries is very proud of the programs it has provided for so many students, summer campers, teachers, and parents.  While attending a Guided Discoveries program, everyone has the opportunity to do new and different activities and to perhaps discover a world they did not know existed.  Their lives have been touched by this experience.

Ross often relates the story about his 6th Grade teacher, Mr. Anderson.

"In the 6th grade I was a shy kid without much confidence.  I had always loved science and my parents encouraged  my interest and allowed me to build a ‘lab workbench’ in the garage.   Mr. Anderson was a brand new teacher when I entered his class in 1957.  He provided huge opportunities for me that year in both science and sports.   My life changed forever.  I think we all have a Mr. Anderson who touched our lives."

Kristi also has a similar story, going to camp with her Aunt Gertrude.

"I started going to my Aunt Gertrude's Arizona Camp at age 6.  I attended camp every summer as a camper and eventually as a counselor through college.  Aunt Gertrude was a dynamic person and was loved by the campers and their parents.  She was a great role model for the rest of the girls and I. She changed my life and her example has been a positive influence on Guided Discoveries and our programs."

All of those people who have participated in a Guided Discoveries program are part of our legacy.  Some chose a science career. Some became advocates for our oceans and our world.  Some learned to like science in school.  All made new friends, developed more confidence, learned to work together and develop some personal responsibility.

The Staff

Over the years, Guided Discoveries has been blessed with many quality staff that have embraced the original vision and made it happen for so many children.  Without these dedicated, hard working young people, the program would not have succeeded. Most of the instructors who have worked in our programs stay only a few years.  Like the students and campers, they discover new opportunities for their lives, as well.

Upon leaving Guided Discoveries they enter the world with a new set of interests, skills, friends, and sometimes a new spouse (As of 2014, over 75 couples who met at camp were married). Our staff alumnus includes many who have earned their teaching credentials, masters, and doctorate degrees.  Many are college professors, high school, and elementary school teachers. We have provided a generation of aquarists, scientific illustrators, exhibit designers and administrators for aquariums, zoos, and science centers.  Some are physicians, lawyers, business people, accountants, insurance executives, actors, movie directors, stage entertainers, and entrepreneurs.  They are also parents who teach their children about the world they will inherit.

The kitchen and maintenance staff is equally important to the success of the programs. Without their selfless efforts, there would be no meals or clean dorms or new labs.  Many of our service staff have worked for Guided Discoveries for 15 years or more.  The camp is their home and they want everyone to love it. They have made a huge contribution to the Guided Discoveries Legacy.

Guided Discoveries also "home grows" most of its managers, directors, and administrators. They take the program further each year through their historical insights, understanding of school needs and expectations, and embracing the Guided Discoveries culture.

All of our staff are the Giants of Guided Discoveries.  Ross always ends his new staff "Ross Talk" by emphasizing… "You are standing on the shoulders of Giants and can see further horizons because of the efforts of all those staff who have gone before you. You are also the future Giants for this program. Make a difference in the lives of children every day!"