Emilia Dabrowski

Secretary and Contributing Writer

Stevenson Dam – Courtesy of the Oxford Patch

STEM program funded by the NOAA to raise student and family conservation awareness

Western Connecticut State University is expected to join Danbury Public Schools along with area environmental and energy agencies in a collaborative instructional program that will educate middle school students and their families on preservation and protection of local watersheds and clean water sources.

Westconn has received a $194,323 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to begin a three-year project, “Finding Our Way”, which will focus on biodiversity of watershed ecosystems and preserving water resources.

Students from Danbury middle schools will come to Western for the summer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs and will participate in the project.

There will also be a series of “Family Science Saturdays” held at WCSU during the academic year to educate families about water resource conservation.

Gabrielle Jazwiecki, director of the WCSU Office of Sponsored Research Administrative Services, said the grant would help continue Western’s strong partnership with the Danbury school system.

Jazwiecki said the NOAA grant would help enroll around 30 students in the summer program to learn about water resource protection in the Housatonic River watershed and Long Island at field sites, including the NOAA scientific station in New Milford, the FirstLight Power plant at Stevenson Dam, and the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation in Riverhead, NY.

“For many students, these will be their first field trips outside the Danbury area. They will have the chance to see scientists at work, learn about water resources, and find out about career opportunities in the sciences,” Said Jazwiecki.

Dr. Theodora Pinou, a professor of biology at WCSU, and Anne Mead, administrator of early childhood education and extended learning programs for the Danbury Public Schools, helped implement the NOAA program.

“As a university, our goal is to plant the seeds for students to explore the STEM disciplines at Western and for the families to become good stewards for their environment. Wouldn’t it be nice if we can create a whole community of stewards?” Pinou noted.

In the program, students will learn in the classroom and on field trips about water conservation and watershed ecosystems. Students will keep journals and complete assignments during their studies that will teach them and their families over time to become more involved in water conservation.

Mead said that students will be chosen to be in the program based on his or her disposition towards the sciences, and in particular in the area of water conservation. Plus, she mentioned that a yearlong program engaging both students and their parents would give more opportunities to grow their interests in the area and to create ways to exercise good water stewardship.

Pinou, a herpetology specialist and faculty curator of the H.G Dowling Herpetological Collection, will work with researchers at the Riverhead Foundation to offer students first-hand experience in studying migration patterns of sea turtles.

Other WCSU faculty members who will share their scientific experience with STEM students include Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Ruth Gyure, Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Michelle Monette, and Assistant Director of the WCSU Weather Center Gary Lessor.

“Teachers will come to Western and will learn about inquiry-based activities that lend themselves to multi-dimensional approaches to instruction. We do not believe it should be about our faculty experts telling their teachers what to develop, but rather about having their teachers come in and tell us what is possible and what can work in the classroom,” said Pinou.

The NOAA program will benefit Western by providing professional workshops for nine science teachers in the Danbury Public Schools, and work with Pinou and other Western faculty members in bringing science education outside the textbook and lecture approach.

For more information, contact the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.