Making natural connections: An authentic field research collaboration
This NSF-funded collaboration between Washington University's Tyson Research Center and the Missouri Botanical Garden's Shaw Nature Reserve is designed to engage St. Louis area high school students in scientifically based exploration of the natural world. Linked programs of field training and field research provide the teenagers with experiences that realistically reflect scientific inquiry in ecology. The Shaw Institute for Field Training (SIFT) program is a one-week summer field training experience combined with 100 hours of additional training and field work. The Tyson Environmental Research Fellowship (TERF) program is a field research mentoring program designed to build on the foundation of skills taught in SIFT, applying them to on-going large-scale research projects. In both programs, participating teens learn a variety of field investigation skills and then have the opportunity to put those skills to work assisting career scientists with authentic research.
During summer 2012, a one-week professional training experience will be conducted with the goal of project replication at other biological field stations, marine laboratories, and nature reserves. The workshop will allow twenty professionals to engage in the project activities, gain understanding of the transformational experiences provided by the two programs, and work on strategies for replication at their home facilities.
This five-year project aims for engagement of a science research institution and career scientists in the execution of informal science education programming, bringing real and dynamic context to the science content. It will assess the success of integration of teenage immersion experiences into research activities at a university-based facility. And it will ultimately provide a model for integration of informal science education programming into the research and restoration projects at biological field stations and nature reserves.
A significant anticipated outcome for participating teens is that they will have increased interest in the scientific research process and environmental biology as a potential field of study in college. Preliminary results of participant survey analysis indicate statistically significant changes in self-reported measurements of awareness of environmental science careers, interest in environmental science careers, seriousness of potential environmental science career pursuit, confidence in completing environmental science activities, and confidence in college science/math course completion. It is hoped that participation in SIFT and TERF will help teens to see themselves as the much needed next generation of environmental scientists, and several members of the first cohort are now pursuing environmental biology and science majors in their first year at college.