• Middle School Citizen Scientists to Share Research at Symposium

    May 09, 2019
    How do you develop enthusiasm for science in middle school students?
    Let them become Citizen Scientists for a semester, according to Alisha Zick, Outreach Education Coordinator at Dunes Learning Center.
    “Students love hands-on science,” Zick explains. “With the new Citizen Science program at Dunes Learning Center, they get outside to make a difference by contributing to actual research in their communities. Along the way, they become more interested and connected to the outdoors. We definitely see how this new connection to wildlife and nature leads to a stronger conservation ethos.”
    This connection will be on display during the inaugural Citizen Science Symposium at the Genesis Center in Gary on May 17. A Legacy Foundation Women in Philanthropy grant for Civic Engagement made this event possible with additional support from ArcelorMittal, Foundations of East Chicago, NIPSCO, and Safety-Kleen.
    “We’re planning a full-day conference that includes breakout sessions led by our education partners along with the opportunity for students to share their scientific contributions,” Zick says. “Nearly 400 students, teachers, and chaperones from schools in East Chicago, Gary, and Chesterton will be attending.”
    Morning sessions will explore areas of current field research, restoration of natural spaces for healthier communities, influences on our water quality, and impacts of urbanization on native wildlife--including live animal ambassadors. Experts from The Field Museum, Humane Indiana, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, The Nature Conservancy, Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, and Purdue University will also discuss how students can get involved in their communities now as well as pathways to scientific fields and "green jobs."
    Following lunch, Jamal Sheriff,  a biology major with minors in environmental science and chemistry at Purdue University Northwest, will provide an inspirational keynote address including an overview of his role as an interpretive park ranger at Indiana Dunes National Park through the Pathways Program. Then, the middle school citizen scientists will share the data they collected.  
    Projects include:
    • eBird: Students collected and reported data on birds to help scientists learn more about abundance, distribution, migration, and possible effects of climate change.
    • Project Squirrel: Students collected data and reported on squirrel species to help mammalogists determine the impact of urbanization on local squirrel populations.
    • Feederwatch: Students collected data and reported on winter birds to help researchers understand abundance, distribution, and migration patterns.
    • Ant Picnic: Students collected and reported data on the species and food sources of local ants to help scientists learn about ants and the foods they prefer.
    • Mushroom Observer: Students collected and reported data on fungi to help scientists grow a larger database.
    • Hoosier Riverwatch: Students collected and reported data on stream water quality to help protect local water resources.
    Introduced as a pilot program in 2018, Dunes Learning Center’s community-based Citizen Science program was developed with a NIPSCO Environmental Action Grant. Additional funding from ArcelorMittal and Foundations of East Chicago for community-based environmental education supported delivery of the program to 134 middle school students in 6 classrooms the first year.
    Currently, 382 middle school citizen scientists in 17 classrooms participate in the Dunes Learning Center program. Thanks to grant funding from ArcelorMittal, Foundations of East Chicago, and Legacy Foundation, Citizen Science is delivered at no cost to students, teachers or school districts.
    Dunes Learning Center is the nonprofit education partner of Indiana Dunes National Park. Delivered on campus and in the community, environmental education programs highlight the history and culture of the dunes to inspire lasting curiosity and stewardship with nature. For more information, visit DunesLearningCenter.org or call 219-395-9555.
    Heather Hahn Sullivan
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