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Scientific Samaritans

Amid a “science and math crisis in this country,” Good Samaritan Institute is born in South Walton

Nestled among mature trees along County Road 393N across from South Walton’s main fire station rests an obscure brick building.

Most don’t know that the meeting rooms inside are a destination for educators and cancer researchers from across the country.

Doug Liles founded the Good Samaritan Institute in 2002, because, he said, God laid it on his heart and he feels it is his destiny to do this.

“There is a crisis in science education in this country,” Liles explains. “Our country is currently 20th in the world in science and that needs to change. Our schools are not even hiring teachers with degrees in science to teach our students. Science education is the thing that makes countries great.”

 

Basing his “call” on the passage in the Bible that tells of the Good Samaritan helping the man in need, Liles felt he should do what he could to help.

After a successful 20 years in commercial real estate in Mississippi, Liles moved his family to South Walton and founded the Institute and put his degree in microbiology to work.

From his base on 393, Liles seeks to improve communication among the country’s scientists through networking for cancer specialists, biologists, writing grants for science education, research, working with schools in teacher development and children’s programs, holding seminars, and promoting distance learning via live steaming videos.

Liles is also the official water tester for Draper Lake and works with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance on projects.

His staff at Good Samaritan Institute includes Jennifer Petro, who works with junior high and middle schoolers on “wonders of the wetlands,” and for teachers on “science and society,” and the relationship between science and religion. She also leads “Grasses in the Classes” program, a hands-on education project that gives 6th grade students a direct role in habitat restoration and environmental education experiences through hands-on interactive learning. 

Petro holds a bachelor of science degree in zoology and a master’s in marine science. 

GSI provides virtual in-classroom labs and data-sharing through its Web-based activities that allow teachers to access video labs and virtual field trips. On the Web site is data collection sharing, question-and-answer forums, pictures, and video accessing resource materials focusing on key habitats located in and unique to Northwest Florida. Curriculum is correlated to Sunshine State Science Standards while students have the opportunity to work with environmental professionals to solve real world ecological problems.

Last month, GSI hosted the “Lab Rats” hands-on enrichment program for ages 10-13. Students learned about everything from astronomy to dissection to CSI-style forensics.

Liles also employs Nikki Lindsey as a grant writer and his designated “science evangelist” to promote the organization. On Saturday mornings, Lindsey can be found at Seaside’s farmers market doing science activities with children and giving tips in natural gardening. She is planning an organic community garden at the Institute. 

“Nikki is the seed planter,” said Liles.

Lindsey holds a bachelor’s degree in history, and a master’s of arts in European history. She is working on a doctorate in modern European history. 

“We have an important science and math crisis in this country,” said Lindsey. “People often feel conflicted about science because of their religious beliefs. What they don’t realize is that Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin were religious men.” 

In addition to the facility’s current 7,000 square feet of space, Liles also owns four acres of land across the road, where he plans to build a 60,000-square-foot research facility with room for larger labs.

 “We’re hoping to have the space and get the OK to do bacterial more water testing in the future, and work with teacher development through NOAA,” he said. “We have diversified interests.”

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