Posted November 10, 2008
Trying to learn science can seem overwhelming for non-science majors. Having a project that is based in the community can lend authenticity and excitement.
Nancy Olmstead has worked for a number of years to make this happen in Environmental Studies Program community-based courses. Working with students on multiple projects over the years, she has learned that community members can gain everything from data they wouldn’t otherwise have had, to new ideas about how to approach a scientific question.
Partnering with The Nature Conservancy and the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area, students have produced years of salt marsh restoration monitoring data. Last year, while working on the Androscoggin River, students discussed how to assess phosphorous pollution with the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Sharing information can sometimes result in new understanding; equally important is that results can also yield more questions than immediate answers. But what is exciting to Nancy is when students realize that’s part of the science learning experience, too.
"One of the ways we make science more approachable is to ground our key lab project within a current, local question. Students can see how the results may be useful for the community, and that provides a very different motivation — to really do it right."