Photos of Daniel Zinsmeyer and his family

An Island of Support

The ocean waters of Southern California left an indelible impression on Daniel Zinsmeyer’s childhood. He spent summer trips boating to Catalina Island, where he scuba dived and snorkeled, just as his father had a generation before.

Now, through their generosity to USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Zinsmeyer and his family help USC undergraduates pursue their passions in the same location he spent so many summers.

The Zinsmeyer Family Endowed Undergraduate Research Fund, created by Dan and his siblings in honor of their father, Andy Zinsmeyer, supports student research at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies headquartered at USC Dornsife.

Specifically, the fund provides financial support for USC students conducting studies at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island.

Zinsmeyer interns spend a summer in guided research on marine and sustainability projects, gaining hands-on experience studying Catalina’s unique ecosystems and networking as members of the marine laboratory community.

For Alexandra Stella, who graduated this year, her time as a Zinsmeyer intern was among her most fulfilling and enriching experiences at USC. She completed two guided research projects, using the laboratory and diving resources at the USC Wrigley Institute to explore the natural habitats accessible off Catalina. Her work collecting data on eelgrass beds and studying sex-change behavior in blue-banded gobies helped refine her academic interests and prepare her for what comes next: In the fall, she’ll begin working towards a master’s in marine science at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in Monterey Bay, California.

“I am convinced that my fieldwork experience as a Zinsmeyer intern was a deciding factor in my selection for a graduate program,” Stella said.

A Trojan Family

Daniel Zinsmeyer ’91 is a third-generation Trojan. His grandmother Daris Zinsmeyer graduated from USC in 1933, his grandfather Wilford Zinsmeyer earned his USC law degree in 1928, and his parents Jean and Andy Zinsmeyer received USC degrees in the early ’60s. Though Daniel grew up in the Midwest, “USC was always present in our lives,” he said.

A history major while at USC Dornsife, Zinsmeyer enjoyed the multidisciplinary approach to learning, one that allowed him to take classes in a variety of departments, including marine science, geography and cinema. That integrative approach has served him well in his own entrepreneurial career, one that has spanned such fields as manufacturing, marketing and now consulting.

Zinsmeyer’s family impressed upon him from an early age that an appreciation of the water extended beyond recreational enjoyment; they also had a responsibility to provide support and opportunities for others to experience all that the ocean has to offer. Zinsmeyer’s grandparents were founding members of Oceanographic Associates, the group that later became Friends of the Wrigley Institute. His grandparents also established the Wilford and Daris Zinsmeyer Early Career Chair in Marine Studies at USC in order to ensure the university would remain an important center of marine science. His father served as a board member for the USC Wrigley Institute, a role that Daniel himself would eventually take on.

A Legacy of the Ocean

Since his time at USC, Zinsmeyer has watched in appreciation as USC has grown in diversity and stature, attracting high-quality professors and students from around the globe. This, according to Zinsmeyer, makes for more competitive research.

“Research needs the chance to become more mainstream, which can create an opportunity for students to consider it as a career starting point,” he said.

Calling the USC Wrigley Institute “a jewel,” Zinsmeyer believes there’s no better place to conduct this type of research. “You can throw a test tube off the dock and get a sample,” he said.

He’s especially enthused that the institute has delved into relevant issues beyond marine science, in areas such as sustainability and kelp biofuel. By funding the internships, Zinsmeyer and his siblings hope to honor the legacy of their father by creating something that will exist in perpetuity, providing new undergraduate research opportunities year after year.

Said Zinsmeyer: “With directed giving like this, you have the ability to create opportunity. That opportunity can provide others with a direction in life.”

Zinsmeyer, who as an undergraduate stayed on for a fifth year at USC to earn his teaching credentials, understands the power that hands-on education has to steer a student’s future. Through the Zinsmeyer Family internship, he wants to plant within students the seeds for future success, “whether for a career, or for some kind of ‘a-ha’ moment that can lead to personal growth or even a scientific game-changer.”

These “a-ha” moments may lie in Alexandra Stella’s future, thanks in part to the internship.

“I am so grateful for this support system provided by the Trojan Family,” Stella said. “It’s made clear that individual success does not just stem from the work of the individual, but is fostered by the attention and care others give to the individual.”


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