12:25 PM

NOAA Awards UHD Nearly $100,000 to Establish "Watershed Wonder" Environmental Camp for High School Students and Teachers

UHD routinely provides college students with high-impact learning opportunities, but with a new grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), UHD professors will extend that hands-on, experiential learning to local high school students and teachers.

The national environmental agency recently awarded UHD nearly $100,000 to establish the Watershed Wonder environmental camp, a two-year interactive environmental laboratory for students in Houston ISD and CyFair ISD, as well as charter school partners Harmony Schools Charter ISD and George I. Sanchez Charter School. Two one-week camps, which will be offered during the 2014 and 2015 summer sessions, will bring up to 80 students and 40 secondary science teachers to campus to research the health and environmental needs of the many watersheds in Greater Houston's 13-county region.

Students and teachers will actively participate in Ph.D.-led research investigations targeting the Trinity River and San Jacinto River Watersheds with support from the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. They will take a research field trip to Galveston and hear presentations from regional watershed experts from NOAA and the City of Houston. The research teams also will locate the watersheds nearest their schools, allowing them to continue investigations over the course of a year and produce datasets to upload to UHD's Houston Urban Network for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (HUNSTEM) website for larger audience consumption.

"The Watershed Wonder environmental camp is an excellent opportunity for high school students to research side-by-side with Ph.D. scientists from UHD as they conduct experiments on the health and vitality of watersheds in their own neighborhoods," said Mary Jo Parker, principal investigator of the project and director of Scholars Academy at UHD. "Through field data collection, observation and the use of innovative research technology at the University, the camp will stimulate students' critical thinking and problem-solving skills, while providing them with a glimpse of the day-to-day contributions of professionals in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Teams of students, teachers and UHD research professors will model for students how actual science research is conducted."

UHD's Watershed Wonder research will excite, motivate and educate teenagers on the significant environmental and economic impacts of Houston's bayous, rivers and tributaries. Working alongside UHD research faculty, students will collect samples from Houston's waterways using state-of-the-art sensors and probes and then analyze their data in the University's STEM labs.

At the conclusion of the camp, Watershed Wonders will provide a professional, real-time data collection kit, valued at approximately $2,000, to teachers to take back to their high school campuses for continued watershed research.

In addition to exposing students to the biology, chemistry, microbiology and environmental science of watershed research, the NOAA grant also provides participating teachers with experiential learning and problem-based curriculum development to share with their fellow environmental science teachers. Through the grant, these teachers will participate in pedagogical training and curriculum development seminars on the UHD campus in both the fall and spring semesters leading up to the summer camp.

"The Watershed Wonder research is intended to encourage students' environmental stewardship, educate participants on the important role we all play in protecting the health of area watersheds and pique students' interest in pursuing STEM-related majors and careers," said Brad Hoge, associate professor in UHD Department of Natural Sciences and director of HUNSTEM. "The camp is a hands-on, experiential learning lab that will equip students to be better scientists and conservationists in their own communities."

In addition to Hoge, Associate Professors Jon Aoki, Poonam Gulati and Mian Jiang from the Department of Natural Sciences also serve as co-principal investigators on the Watershed Wonder environmental camp grant.

UHD students and Associate Professor Brad Hoge gather water and soil samples to help improve the health of Houston's watersheds. U