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Virginia Students Get Science from the Source

Aug 11, 2018 | Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, Informed Citizens

More than 3,000 Virginia students are immersed in local science, data, and the outdoors at the state’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve. Photos courtesy of Sarah Nuss.
When teachers ask Sarah Nuss “how healthy is the bay?” she is happy to have some good news to share. “I tell them underwater grasses are rebounding,” says the Education Coordinator at our Virginia Reserve. “It helps to have a positive message to inspire people, not be all doom and gloom.”

As an educator who works with roughly 3,000 of Virginia’s students and dozens of teachers each year, Nuss is also happy to have direct access to the trove of data, research, and scientific expertise at her reserve and its partner, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. It’s a powerful resource for education and outreach programs like hers, which played a key role in supporting community awareness and action that supported the seagrass recovery.

“We have the luxury of looking across all of this research and picking what would be the best to translate into a field experience for middle school or high school students,” she says. “So when we say ‘look, here’s a positive outcome,’ we can also explain the science behind how it happened using local data.”

Case in point is a lesson plan that Nuss co-authored in 2016 with Celeste Venolia, a NOAA Hollings Undergraduate Scholar. Based on a 2012 study conducted by the reserve, the plan was published in Current, the Journal of Marine Education. Creating it was a unique opportunity for Venolia to see how emerging research and education come together.

“I had a blast getting out in the field with reserve scientists as they monitored seagrass and then working with Sarah to figure out a way to communicate the ecological concepts and monitoring methods,” says Venolia, who was an undergraduate at Smith College at the time. “Then I was able to I teach the lesson plan to middle-schoolers at a week-long overnight camp on the Eastern Shore.”

The experience helped Venolia understand how comfortable she is at the boundary between research and education. “I’m in graduate school at the University of Rhode Island studying energetics modelling to support kelp and oyster aquaculture. My reserve experience made me confident I want to find ways to weave both science and informal education together in a career.”

“Translating research into terms most people can understand is a valuable tool that is needed to solve some of the problems along our coasts,” says Nuss. “We need to be able to communicate the science to everyone to move forward with protecting and preserving our coastline.”

Celeste Venolia brought education and science together in her Hollings Fellowship.
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