HOUSTON, Aug. 7, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- The inaugural class of Nautilus Ambassadors – a graduate student and two educators from Corpus Christi, Texas and Lake Charles, Louisiana – will join scientists at sea aboard the Exploration Vessel E/V Nautilus from August 13-17. The newly-formed partnership between CITGO Petroleum Corporation and Dr. Robert Ballard's Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) made the Nautilus Ambassadors Program possible, and the program reflects the commitment CITGO has to education and environmental stewardship.

The three Nautilus Ambassadors are Jason James, Kelly Pennoyer, and Dr. Nikos Kiritsis. James teaches aquatic science and engineering at the Innovation Academy for Engineering and Marine Science at Foy H. Moody High School in Corpus Christi, and Kelly Pennoyer is a PhD student in marine biology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Dr. Kiritsis is the dean of the College of Engineering at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La. and director of the Institute for Industry – Education Collaboration.

"One of the major goals of our Nautilus Exploration Program is to inspire the next generation of explorers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields and to instill a concern for the world around us within our Ambassadors," said expedition leader and OET Executive Vice President, Dr. Katherine Croff Bell. "We're very excited to work with CITGO to provide educators and students the direct experience of pure exploration, while allowing them the opportunity to share their experience far and wide with their peers."

With the OET program, the CITGO-sponsored Ambassadors will travel aboard the Nautilus from Belize City, Belize, to Montego Bay, Jamaica. They will help map the seafloor, shadow onboard scientists and engineers, and collect oceanographic data. While aboard the Nautilus, the Ambassadors will participate in education and outreach efforts from ship to shore – connecting with audiences at aquariums, science centers, and other venues including sites in Corpus Christi and Lake Charles – utilizing Nautilus' state-of-the-art telepresence system.        

"We are honored to partner in this initiative with Dr. Robert Ballard, whose numerous scientific accomplishments include discovering the remains of the Titanic. We look forward to contributing to this program and inspiring many young minds to pursue careers in the scientific field and to encourage environmental stewardship – on land and at sea," said CITGO Vice President of Government and Public Affairs Rafael Gomez.

The partnership between CITGO and OET is part of a year-long series of CITGO programs designed to extend the company's ongoing commitment to environmental protection and restoration leading into the tenth anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita next year. The storms resulted in significant change in the Gulf Coast through erosion of beaches, dunes and disappearing wetlands. CITGO operates refineries in the region, and employees, the surrounding communities and CITGO facilities were heavily affected.

"Almost a decade ago we were united by the tragedy of the devastating storms and CITGO did, and continues to do, all it can to restore the communities of the Gulf Coast where we live and work. Today we are united by hope and a renewed focus on environmental restoration and conservation through programs like the OET, which serves to advance environmental education and the protection of our oceans and marine life," added Gomez.

CITGO has played an integral role in the Gulf Coast community for more than 70 years. After the storms, CITGO provided funding and fuel to non-governmental organizations and first responders and assisted in evacuating citizens out of harm's way. The operations at the CITGO Lake Charles refinery were brought back online in record time so that fuel and other desperately-needed products could be provided to the region.

In addition to the Nautilus Ambassador Program, the OET engages educators and students of all levels in education and outreach programs. OET is developing tailored, community-specific STEM programs that combine all of these offerings in Corpus Christi, Texas, Lake Charles, La. and Broward County, Fla. and is expecting to expand this program to other communities nationwide.

The public can follow the 2014 Nautilus expedition 24 hours a day on social media at Nautilus Live on Facebook, @EVNautilus on Twitter, and online via www.nautiluslive.org.

About CITGO Petroleum
CITGO is a Houston-based refiner, transporter and marketer of transportation fuels, lubricants, petrochemicals and other industrial products. The company is owned by PDV America, Inc., an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., the national oil company of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. For more information, visit www.citgo.com.

About the Ocean Exploration Trust
The Ocean Exploration Trust was founded in 2008 by Dr. Robert Ballard. Our international program centers on scientific exploration of the seafloor launched from aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus, a 64-meter research vessel currently based in the Caribbean Sea. In addition to conducting scientific exploration, the Nautilus Exploration Program offers telepresence to explorers on shore via live video, audio, and data feeds from our ships. The program also includes an education component that brings educators and students on oceanographic expeditions. The 2014 expedition sponsors are the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bechtel, the Viola and Panthers Foundations, Alcoa Foundation, Sea Research Foundation, Office of Naval Research, the National Geographic Society, University of Rhode Island, and additional private donors.