Guest blog post by Julia Sullivan and Sally Henkel, AmeriCorps VISTA Members at the Grand Canyon Trust
Scientists in the Classroom is a STEM mentorship program that facilitates the collaboration between an entire class and a local organization committed to STEM education. For the Grand Canyon Trust, this partnership takes place once a month with sixth graders at Sinagua Middle School. Lead by Lisa Winters, Research and Stewardship Volunteer Coordinator at the Trust, this partnership is now heading into its second year. Americorps VISTA Members Sally Henkel and Julia Sullivan have joined the partnership as well. In October, students learned about the different types of public lands on the Colorado Plateau, how federal agencies work together, and that everyone has ownership in public lands. This month, they learned about uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region and potential changes to the present rules on the mining of uranium in this area.
Uranium mining is a complex topic. In order to break it down, we first discussed the differences between renewable and nonrenewable energy and the ways in which we consume energy on a daily basis. Then, students got a sneak peek of the Trust’s new film on the status of uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region. The film highlights the recent review of the 20-year moratorium on uranium mining around the Grand Canyon and gives voice to the communities that could be affected if the ban were to be lifted. After digesting the film, students identified some major themes and were encouraged to think critically about the issue and discuss further questions they would like to know more about. It was uplifting to see young people think critically about the use of public lands and to use their young voices to advocate for the places that they care about!
Melissa (Lissy) Enright, a graduate student in ECOSS at NAU, shared her research on the hydraulics (water movement) of giant redwood trees with the high school students in the iCREATE class at NAU.
Lissy shared some of her background with the students including working on an oceanographic vessel with the Sea Education Association, working for the National Park Service in Hawaii, and for American Conservation Experience as an AmeriCorps Member in both Flagstaff and Alaska! She also worked with Honko, an NGO (non-governmental organization) working in partnership with the coastal communities of Madagascar on mangrove conservation. She showed the students the website for the Student Conservation Association where you can search through their list of opportunities, including those for students under 18 years old!
Lissy's experience helped her to get a "real job" working with the US Forest Service in Alaska doing a Forest Inventory and Assessment. She also worked in Northern California where she now has her research area studying water stress at the top of Redwood trees.
Lissy illustrated how the stems of the tree branches can get embolisms (air bubbles) from high water stress. She climbs the trees using a jumar system and then brings the branches home to Flagstaff to study the hydraulic conductivity of the tree.
Lissy asked the students why the pine needles and branches might be ore water stressed at the top of the trees than down below. Even though the base of the redwood is in an often moist environment, the tops of the trees are more exposed to sun; but the primary reason is that water is pulled all the way up the xylem (water tubes) of the tree from the ground to 250-400 feet! So the top of the tree is more like a dry climate.
Lissy took the students into the laboratory where she measures the hydraulic conductivity of the branches. She had them assist her with several experimental procedures she uses to determine levels of water stress in the redwood trees.
She told us: We measure hydraulic conductivity on the hydraulic line, a system of tubes that connects a stem segment to an upstream reservoir of solution (water with a tiny bit of potassium chloride)suspended a meter above the sample, and a downstream balance. The water flowing through the sample is measured as it gets to the balance. We use this measurement to infer about the degree of embolism, or air bubbles blocking the flow of water, present in the xylem cells. If the conductivity is very low, for example, we presume that there are a lot of embolisms, and the tree the sample came from was subject to a lot of water stress.
In the image above, a student measures pressure for another experiment. Lissy explains: When a piece of a plant is clipped off, the water inside sucks back away from the cut surface. This is because there is tension in the water in plants. If the plant is more water stressed, the tension is greater. We can measure this in units of pressure with a pressure chamber. We first cut a sample, then insert it into the chamber with the cut end extending out of the hole in the top. When we turn up the pressure in the chamber, the water will be forced back to the cut surface. We measure the pressure at which the water reaches the surface, and know that that number is equal to the tension that existed in the water in the plant before we cut it. If it takes a lot of pressure, then the plant was very water stressed.
Thank you, Lissy, for the wonderful presentation and the engaging hands-on research in your lab!
Guest Blog Post by Erin O’Keefe, Events & Outreach Coordinator with Flagstaff's Open Space Program through the STEM Education VISTA Project
The Indigenous Youth STEM Academy Completes its Pilot Year
This past summer, the City of Flagstaff Open Space Program implemented a pilot year of the Indigenous Youth STEM Academy (IYSA) at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve. As Native Americans are one of the most underrepresented groups within STEM careers and among STEM degree-holders, I recognized a need for focused programming with Indigenous youth on these topics. As such, the goal of this program is to provide Indigenous youth in Flagstaff and the surrounding communities with an opportunity to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in connection to culture, community, and stewardship while providing resources for pursuing higher education and professional careers in STEM fields.
Programming took place at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve as it provides a unique opportunity for learning about Northern Sinagua petroglyphs and habitation sites, has an outdoor classroom area, interpretive signs throughout the Preserve, and represents a place of cultural importance for many surrounding tribal communities. The Academy consists of daylong sessions with various Indigenous youth groups. The key components of each session include an interpretive tour of the Preserve, a panel discussion with local STEM professionals and students, followed by an interactive learning project.
This year, we programmed with three different groups: the National Indian Youth Leadership Project (Gallup, New Mexico), Native Americans for Community Action (Flagstaff, Arizona), and Kinlani Bordertown Dormitory (Flagstaff, Arizona). Youth participants ranged from middle school to high school age, and represented tribes including Navajo, Zuni, Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, Hopi, and Apache. The learning projects included rock art documentation and plant identification. Our panelists represented STEM fields from organizations including the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Natural Channel Design, Friends of the Rio de Flag, Museum of Northern Arizona, and Departments from Northern Arizona University including Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Communication, Forestry, and Applied Indigenous Studies. Panelists discussed their experiences in STEM, why they are passionate about their field and their advice for young people pursuing education and careers in those areas.
In order to gauge response to the programming as well as any changes in interest to pursue STEM in college or careers, our youth participants filled out pre- and post- survey questionnaires. The surveys included questions such as, “How interested are you in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) as a potential career?”, “How interested are you in going to college?”, and “How important do you feel it is for Native Americans to work in STEM fields?” One participant expressed, “It is extremely important for Native Americans to work in STEM careers. I feel Native Americans are extremely overlooked as we are seen to not be well-educated.” Another participant stated, “One of the biggest barriers [to Native Americans pursuing careers in STEM] is poor education in our home towns.”
Overall, we identified increased interest in pursuing college as well as learning more about various STEM areas and topics. There was a large number of positive responses to the programming activities, and many of our participants expressed that they found great value in the panel discussions specifically.
As this is the first year of the Indigenous Youth STEM Academy, we plan to incorporate lessons learned into year two of programming in 2018. We plan to focus on enhanced collaboration with a specific youth group in order to provide continuous and more focused programming to build upon each session rather than providing only one-time sessions with various youth groups. We will also be transitioning our program schedule from summer sessions to sessions taking place during the school year to be able to engage youth more consistently throughout the year.
It is extremely exciting and rewarding to have these types of experiences where we are learning alongside Indigenous youth and witnessing their strength, intelligence, leadership and potential. We greatly look forward to continuing these efforts into the next year and the future.
My name is Madison Ledgerwood. I am currently a STEM VISTA at NAU's Rethink Possible. I was raised and shaped in the Southwest which nurtured my love for the land, and of all species. I relocated to indigenous land, Flagstaff, in 2010. This is where earned my degree in Environmental Studies, engaged with the community around the intersection of social and environmental issues in the Action Research Teams (ARTs), and began to uncover my own power and potential. Before long, I realized I wanted to more deeply understand what diverse experiences and understandings led individuals to begin fostering a thriving and harmonious world and what it took for them to devote themselves to such engagement and maintain their well-being. I researched this and earned my MA in Sustainable Communities. I also created Community and University Public Inquiry, an interdisciplinary community-based research program, while in graduate school.
Now, I yearn for a world in which people do not feel powerless but utterly capable; a world in which people dream of more sustainable, thriving futures and find their unique way to contribute to creating such a world. When I tune into the earth, the plants, the rocks, the wind at the base of the San Francisco Peaks, I know that hope is found in more of us finding our niche, in more of us finding the unique work we have to offer and that is needed now on the planet. I am committed to mentoring others who are searching for their skills, power and potential. I aim to spread light by blooming emerging seeds into empowered leaders. My STEM VISTA position cultivates my dream by providing me the opportunity to design curriculum, connect to volunteers in diverse fields, and expand the reach of a program that engages students around the “big questions” of college, such as what they want to major in and contribute to the world.
My name is Sally Henkel and this year I’m working with the Grand Canyon Trust as their Citizen Science Volunteer Coordinator. I will be working towards engaging underrepresented youth in citizen science and making conservation more accessible. I just recently found my way down to Arizona from Missoula, Montana. While Montana has been home for several years, I fell in love with the Colorado plateau on an impromptu river trip a few years back.
I graduated with a BA in forensic anthropology and mountain studies. I have since moved all around working as an international trip leader, a field instructor in Yellowstone, a wildlife biologist, a teacher, a beer slinger, and adventure snack extraordinaire. Upon moving to Montana roughly five years ago, I began to discover the depth of my love for conservation and ecology. I’m passionate about connecting people to the landscape, wolverine conservation, and teaching ecological knowledge as a means to understand systems. When I’m not in the office, I can usually be found running around the woods, telling corny jokes or seeking winter- usually they all happen at once!
Dr. Laura Huenneke's Address to the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative's Annual Teacher Awards in Sustainability Curriculum in May of 2017
Introduction: The SEDI TASC awards recognize our outstanding educators and their exemplary projects focused on sustainability. At the TASC celebration in May 2017, Dr. Laura Huenneke, Professor Emeritus, School of Earth Sciences & Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University, discussed building our future by strengthening the educational ecosystem.
Dr. Laura Huenneke's address:
Back in the spring, I jumped at the chance to be part of the presentation of SEDI's Teacher Awards for Sustainable Curriculum, celebrating some of our fantastic teachers. Teachers are one of our community's most precious resources – truly changing lives and creating the future, both for individuals and for society as a whole. The SEDI TASC awards recognize our outstanding educators and their exemplary projects focused on sustainability. I’d like to take a moment to flip this on its head and reflect on the sustainability of outstanding teachers and education. That is, how can we build a future where we have many such teachers and many such schools, and where all our students over the long-term can benefit from these kinds of experiences?
Awards like the SEDI sustainability awards do bring peer and community recognition to the individuals who have done inspired and inspiring work. We hope that recognitions like this make some of the effort and sacrifices worthwhile. Such recognition is valuable and necessary; but by itself it is not sufficient to ensure that these same teachers will stay with us in the years to come and will continue to succeed. Nor will these awards guarantee that future teachers are able to provide equivalent high-quality experiences.
My academic background is as an ecosystem scientist, trained to think about entire systems and how individual pieces and processes are connected -- how they interact both positively and negatively. So I tend to think about education as a system – not just the individual teachers and students in a given classroom, but the larger context in which they operate. Many of those attending the spring awards ceremony know far more than I do about K-12 education, so what I say here is pretty general – but I’d like to ask you to think through some of the parts of this educational ecosystem and how more of us can help support the system as a whole.
There are teachers at a single grade level within a school, learning from and supporting one another. There are connections among the teachers within a school as students move up through the grades, deliberately attending to how curriculum, experiences, and human relationships link together and build through a student’s journey through that school.
The connections among teachers, as well as the working environment within a school, are facilitated and shaped by a principal and the culture in a school. Is the principal able to connect the teachers, and is there support for that school and that principal from the families and from neighboring institutions? Is there room and support for creative approaches?
In turn, the connections among teachers, principals, and schools in a district are all shaped by the district and its professional leadership. What resources does the district have to invest in and attend to professional development, to career development, to communication, and to supporting equity of opportunities across schools? How much support do district leaders receive in their role as liaison or interface - or buffer! - with state and federal requirements and opportunities?
The state shapes this complex environment with its policies and funding. Arizona of course sets policies around teacher qualifications and expectations, and calls for adoption of the Common Core (Arizona Career and College Readiness) or other standards – I probably don’t need to say much more about what many perceive as a lack of leadership in this arena. State funding patterns result not just in our teacher pay scales falling behind those of other states (limiting our ability to recruit and retain), but also in severe infrastructure gaps (e.g., for rural schools) and also instability caused by episodic RIFS or last-minute changes in teaching assignments. State universities like our own Northern Arizona University are our primary sources of new or early career teachers; state policies shape their curriculum and training which then influences the teachers' success in the first few years of their career.
At the overarching federal level, we currently seem to be moving away from expectations of education as a pathway for social mobility, innovation, and opportunity.
Finally, I must acknowledge – I personally am motivated by our location and the very special history of this area: remembering that some of our neighbors (the southwestern tribes) are the original inhabitants of these landscapes and have a truly long-term perspective. Remembering this reminds me to commit to ensuring access to excellent education and preparation for those who will build the future of all our communities.
This complex nest of multiple levels is our educational ecosystem; how can we best sustain it? How should we add to or build on recognitions like the SEDI awards for individual teachers, to help ensure that teachers are operating within the most supportive system possible? Many of us often feel frustrated at the seeming impossibility of shifting state or federal policies, funding, or the like. But as a community, I would challenge us to get creative about filling in or substituting for weaknesses in the current ecosystem. Of course, individuals in our community do support schools financially through the Education Tax Credit program, and so do our local businesses (e.g., the school supplies drives at the start of each year). But -- what else might we doing?
Could we provide opportunities for teachers in the summer that would help counteract the impact of low salaries while providing professional development? These might include teacher development experiences, internships or short-term employment opportunities, or scholarship support for graduate courses.
What could we as a community provide in terms of facilitation for planning? Community groups, employers or industry associations could create more open forums for discussion about local workforce needs and how skills or knowledge relevant to them might fit into the curriculum at various levels. And then those groups could follow up with some of the information, experts, and resources to supplement what schools and teachers already have to develop those skills.
What could we as a community provide in terms of the larger policy framework for schools or for the district? Members of the collaborative group LAUNCH Flagstaff are keeping an eye on national and international best practices and standards, while STEM City works to expand high-quality experiences in the science, engineering, and technology arena. These groups can serve as resources and collaborators for curriculum specialists in our districts and schools, figuring out together how to align the community’s educational objectives with external policy or state standards.
These are just a few starting points – to get your creative juices flowing. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it well: “A surplus of effort could overcome a deficit of confidence.” Even if we think our educational ecosystem has some deficits, we can – and we absolutely should – make the effort to change parts of that system for the better. In closing, I hope all of us as individuals, and the organizations we represent – LAUNCH Flagstaff, SEDI, STEM City, the schools and the district, the business community, our residents and neighbors – will find ways to collaborate in strengthening the entire ecosystem within which our outstanding teachers work. Thanks again for joining SEDI in celebrating some of the outstanding teaching in our region – and congratulations to the fantastic educators being recognized.
My name is Larrea Cottingham and I am the Climate and Energy VISTA at the City of Flagstaff through the Flagstaff STEM Education Project. In my role, I am working to expand the Sustainability Section’s outreach around climate and energy, both in schools and the community. I am currently working to develop a climate leadership academy for local high school students that will give students an opportunity to become more climate literate, and engage in place-based climate action and outreach at home, school and in their community. I am excited to work with community members and local organizations to create ambitious educational opportunities around climate and the environment for everyone in the Flagstaff community.
I moved to Flagstaff in 2014 to attend Northern Arizona University where I received a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Arts in Teaching Science. Throughout college I played violin and viola in the NAU Symphony and Chamber Orchestra, and I still often play for the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra. I am passionate about ecological conservation and outdoor education, and I am inspired to create a career that combines my love of exploring wild places and desire to protect them. I love to spend as much time outside as possible, so I have worked in wildlife biology and as an instructor at the Colorado Outward Bound School. I am always eager to plan the next big adventure, but in the meantime, I can be found exploring the mountains, rivers, and canyons.
Guest Blog Post by Lisa Winters, Research and Stewardship Volunteer Coordinator, Grand Canyon Trust
Did you know springs support more than 20% of the endangered species in the United States?
Despite being small areas compared to lakes or oceans, springs are really diverse! However, springs are also one of the most threatened ecosystems: the Springs Stewardship Institute reports that a lack of information and attention to springs has resulted in over 90% of springs lost in some areas.
Earlier this year, Kathryn Wertz’s 6th graders at Sinagua Middle School, Kesava’s 4-6th graders at Haven Montessori, and the Centennial Forest Outdoor Leadership Academy with Manager Cheryl Miller got the chance to contribute to springs research. Students traveled to different springs, defined as emerging groundwater, and measured water quality, water flow, identified plants and animals, and collected information on the source and extent of the spring. Afterwards, they discussed why springs might be threatened: human water use, livestock grazing, mining, or pollution are just some of the threats to our springs. “Use less water!” “Practice leave no trace principles!” and “stay on the trail!” rang out when prompted for suggestions on how we could become stewards of the springs.
These data collected help support a large forest restoration project in northern Arizona. The Four Forest Restoration Initiative is a collaborative effort across 2.4 million acres, to bring natural fire regimes, plant and animal diversity, and healthy forests back to the area. The project focuses on thinning small diameter trees, small prescribed fires, and also protecting water in the forests.
Springs are critical water sources for the diversity of animals that call forests home, and also for a variety of plant life. When forests become overcrowded (a healthy acre of forest should have about 30 trees or less, whereas now we might see 300 trees/acre), all those trees send deep roots down to suck up the available water. By thinning some of the trees, we will hopefully raise the water table, and provide access to surface water for the other species. The trees that are left to grow also have more space, more nutrients, and an easier time staying strong and healthy. A win-win for everyone!
Not only did these students collect important information that will be useful for forest management, but they also proved to be capable and enthusiastic citizen scientists! We can’t wait to do it again! Thank you to Joseph Holway from the Spring Stewardship Institute, Cheryl Miller from Centennial Forest, and Grand Canyon Trust for helping make this project a success. Thank you also to Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Heritage Fund for providing financial support to help get students outside doing real life STEM!
Teachers can apply for field trip funding through the Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Grant program. Link to the Heritage Grant site above and/or download the pdf here! The grant proposal is due by October 31, 2017.
E(ek!) Coli Sampling for the Safety of Humans and the Environment
Guest blog post by Chelsea Silva, VISTA Member for the City Sustainability Department and the Friends of the Rio de Flag
Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli, is a type of fecal coliform bacteria. Bacteria are single celled microorganisms that can either exist as independent organisms or depend on another organism to live. E. coli bacteria are found in the environment (soil and vegetation) and in the intestines and feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. That’s right, fecal = relating to feces = poop!
Most coliform bacteria are not harmful, but their presence in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms (e.g. pathogens) could be in the water system. Only particular strains of E. coli cause serious illness, and people usually contact these strains (especially strain 0157:H7) through consuming undercooked meats such as hamburger. Disease symptoms include diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and sometimes jaundice, plus headache and fatigue.
Safeguarding against E. coli is part of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s (ADEQ) mission to protect and enhance public health and the environment. The ADEQ conducts routine E. coli sampling throughout the state in order to reduce the risk of illness from disease causing organisms associated with sewage or animal wastes.
On June 28th, ADEQ staff trained staff and volunteers with Natural Channel Designs, Inc. and the Friends of the Rio de Flag on E. coli sampling. Trainees learned how to properly collect a water sample, how to process the sample using a handy “Processing Guide”, and how to record the data once processing is complete. Sampling in Flagstaff and the surrounding areas will provide the ADEQ with the data needed to protect our drinking water supplies.
Below show the initial and the final stage of processing the E. coli. After the sample incubates for 12 hours, you look at the large and small squares on the sample and count the ones that fluoresce under a black light.You then use a Most Probable Number (MPN) table to calculate the MPN of E. coli in the sample (you count the # large squares fluorescing in you sample and find this number on the X axis and do the same with the number of small squares fluorescing and find it on the Y axis to calculate the MPN of bacteria in the sample). The picture here shows that the sample contains bacteria, but not at a concerning level.
The Friends of the Rio de Flag is excited to partner with ADEQ and Natural Channel Designs, Inc. to engage citizen scientists in E. coli sampling. In the coming months, the Friends of the Rio will create a sampling plan with ADEQ to best fit the needs of our watershed. Afterwards, the Friends of the Rio will recruit volunteers to collect water samples throughout town. This will give us a better idea of water quality in our community.
Thank you to Meghan and Jake with the ADEQ for training us on E. coli sampling, and another thank you to Natural Channel Designs, Inc. for hosting the E. coli sample training day.
From L to R: Chris Tressler, Civil Engineer and Geomorphologist, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Mark Wirtanen, Biologist and Engineering Technician, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Oren Thomas, Conservation Projects Manager, Prescott Creeks; Jake Fleishman, Civil Engineering In-Training, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Chelsea Silva, STEM VISTA Member for Friends of the Rio de Flag and the City of Flagstaff Sustainability Division; Meghan Smart, Hydrologist, ADEQ; and Jake Breedlove, Grant & Watershed Coordinator, ADEQ
Guest Blog Post by Karin Wadsack and Todd Traen, with an update from Jenna Samora
On Friday, April 28th, nearly 100 middle and high school students competed in the first Arizona KidWind Challenge wind turbine design competition. 20 teams of students came from Sinagua Middle School, Mount Elden Middle School, STAR School, Winslow High, Coconino High, and Northland Preparatory Academy. The teams brought a wind turbine they had designed and built ahead of time to test in a wind tunnel, determining whose turbine made the most electricity over a 30-second test period. The teams also competed based on their turbine design, technical presentation, technical design knowledge, and general wind energy knowledge. The teams each met with a group of judges from the wind industry, giving a presentation about their project and answering specific design and knowledge questions.
The teams also competed in “instant challenges,” building sail cars, windmills for weight lifting, and playing wind energy Jeopardy. Throughout the day, students got to interact with other students from different schools and grade levels, and explain their own projects to peers, teachers, coaches, and visiting guests.Turbines at the competition included vertical and horizontal axis turbines, systems with and without gears, and some turbines for which the students had wound their own generators.
Frequently heard: “This is AWESOME!” “Check out that design!” “I’m having SO MUCH fun!” “Next year we’re going to do _____!”
The Wind for Schools project staff of eight was supported by an additional eight amazing volunteers from the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals and the Climate Science and Solutions professional master’s program at NAU. The Expert Judges also volunteered their day to the event. The Boys & Girls Club of Flagstaff generously donated its facilities for the day.
Update from Jenna Samora on the MITe Team's trip to Nationals: The Mustang Gust Runners ended up taking 1st in the Vertical Axis Insta-Challenge, but did not score high on the original wind turbine design. After the first competition in Flagstaff, the students 3D-printed their own gears and created their own generator. However, they were unable to get the energy output that they hoped for, so they went back to using the KidWind generator. Even through their turbine was not the best design, the boys still learned a lot and had a great time!
Thank you to our dedicated judges!
Ross Taylor, Wind Subject Matter Expert
Ken Kotalik, Primus Wind Power
Jim Corning, Prometheus Renewables
Daniel Snyder, Westwind Solar Inc
Darrin Russell, Wind Subject Matter Expert
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator