Partnerships with the Scientific Community: Enhancing Science Education and Science Literacy in Cape Cod

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Woods Hole in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is well known for its vibrant scientific community. It is home to the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center (WHCMSC), as well as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Sea Education Association, and numerous other research organizations and facilities.

This article is part of the December 2018-January 2019 issue of the Sound Waves newsletter.  

Given the breadth of the scientific and technical expertise in the area, local educators, parents, and the scientific community band together to establish two partnerships that give scientists the opportunity to share their knowledge and resources with the community at large, especially teachers and students: the Woods Hole Science and Technology Education Partnership (WHSTEP) and Falmouth STEM Boosters, Inc. (FSB).

A woman stands beside her exhibit in a hall

USGS scientist Meagan Gonneea at her exhibit during the 2018 WHSTEP Liaison Dinner. (Credit: Sara Ernst, USGS. Public domain.)

The USGS WHCMSC is proud to be an active member of both WHSTEP and FSB.

In 1989, WHSTEP was established as a network of schools, scientific institutions, businesses, and community resources created to enhance science education and science literacy in the community. Throughout the year, WHSTEP organizes a variety of events to engage students and the general public in science, math, and technology; provide professional development for teachers; and exchange ideas and materials within the network.

Two women with their backs to the camera look at an exhibit

Teachers view Meagan’s exhibit and take some of the handouts she provided during the 2018 WHSTEP Liaison Dinner. (Credit: Sara Ernst, USGS. Public domain.)

Recently, Meagan Gonneea (Research Physical Scientist), Kate Ackerman (Geologist), and Sara Ernst (Information Specialist) represented USGS at the WHSTEP Annual Liaison Dinner. The event brings together representatives from member school districts and research organizations to meet, make connections, and learn about WHSTEP activities planned for 2019.

Photograph of an outreach display with a poster and handouts

Meagan’s exhibit featured a poster about coastal wetlands, resilient coasts, and climate impacts; a sediment core; and various handouts. (Credit: Sara Ernst, USGS. Public domain.)

The night began with an hour-long science and social mixer with various representatives hosting exhibits, which gave participants a chance to learn more about local research efforts, classroom initiatives, and more. Meagan was invited to host an exhibit that included a poster about USGS research concerning coastal wetlands, resilient coasts, and climate impacts; a sediment core (a long narrow tube used to sample soil deposits from the bottom of a lake or wetland) with a sample inside; and an assortment of handouts and classroom materials. Meagan discussed her work and engaged with teachers about their curriculum plans and ideas for future projects and activities.

A man smiles at a group of students sitting around a table

USGS information technology specialists Troy Currence, Adam Bordieri, and Stephen Taylor talked to students about their education and career pathways in information technology as they gave students a tour of the server room. (Credit: Sara Ziegler, USGS. Public domain.)

After the mixer, Sue Natali of the Woods Hole Research Center gave the keynote presentation about women in science, and the night ended with a raffle. There was palpable excitement and determination in the air to execute new ideas and make new connections. Events like this truly reinforce community bonds and remind everyone of the valuable resources they have in each other.

Falmouth STEM Boosters, Inc. is another non-profit program striving to enhance science education and science literacy in the Cape Cod region. Incorporated in 2014, FSB seeks to help connect Falmouth Public School teachers and students to local science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) resources and opportunities.

Two students watch a scientist give a presentation

Students learned about the USGS Aerial Imaging and Mapping (AIM) program, which uses unmanned aerial system technologies to map coastal and wetland environments. USGS representatives included geologists Elizabeth Pendelton and Seth Ackerman (not pictured). (Credit: Sara Ziegler, USGS. Public domain.)

On behalf of USGS, Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellow Sara Ziegler, a new FSB board member, and Sara Ernst attended a FSB brainstorming meeting on December 3, 2018, to discuss specific ways to enhance the relationships between Falmouth schools and local science institutions. Thirty-two attendees, consisting of Falmouth school administrative staff and representatives from local science institutions, used their collective expertise to determine how best to enrich science education in Falmouth with Woods Hole’s significant and diverse STEM resources. The group also explored priorities, concerns, and goals, concluding that science literacy is a major priority, regardless of a student’s chosen career path. Also, all agreed that science should be introduced to students as early as possible and that every grade level should receive the same attention when enhancing science education. The group developed five major objectives that will steer them moving forward.

A man explains the equipment to students during a computer server room tour

USGS information technology specialists Troy Currence, Adam Bordieri, and Stephen Taylor talked to students about their education and career pathways in information technology as they gave students a tour of the server room. (Credit: Sara Ziegler, USGS. Public domain.)

Through WHSTEP, FSB, and other similar programs, teachers have access to more educational resources and professional development opportunities; students get to interact with scientists and are spending more time performing hands-on research both outdoors and in a lab setting; and research institutions like USGS are able to educate and inspire others by sharing their expertise and discussing their research and its value to society.

In November 2018, the USGS WHCMSC hosted students from Falmouth High School, a school within the WHSTEP and FSB network. The event was specifically designed to expose the students to various career paths and opportunities in the computer/computer programming field. Sara Ziegler and FSB organized the visit so that students could meet firsthand with scientists working in these fields. Students learned about mapping with drones, data processing, IT (Information Technology) support, math and computers in science in general, seismology (the science of earthquakes and related phenomena), how to make sense of big data sets, and using computers to forecast ocean currents. The scientists not only talked about what they do, but also, how they got there and what struggles they may have had along the way, like disliking math–all of which sent an important message to the kids: this could be you.

By being active in the community, USGS is sharing scientific knowledge and research with the public and various stakeholders, and contributing to public science education and literacy through important community partnerships. In addition, these events raise awareness and interest in a variety of USGS research topics, which can help resource managers, planners, and home or business owners make informed decisions.

Visit the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center outreach page to learn more about their outreach efforts and the different partnerships and programs they support.