STEM

Mentoring for Science Technology, Engineering, and Math

By Coral Tily

EPA researchers Cheryl Brown and Christina Folger were among the 45 volunteer science mentors that offered technical assistance to elementary school students preparing for the Newport Science Fair in Newport, Oregon. This science fair is one of the Oregon coast’s many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities.

Lydia Miller with Anastasia in front of the poster of Lydia’s group – influence of soil composition and retention

Lydia Miller with Anastasia Kaldy in front of the poster of Lydia’s group – influence of soil composition and retention

Students at Newport area elementary schools conducted experiments, gathered data, and compiled results. On January 21, the students shared their scientific discoveries with the public at a Science Fair held at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, home to one of EPA’s Western Ecology Division research laboratories.

The science mentors visited the classrooms regularly to assist the students with their investigations. Over 800 students from 33 classrooms at Sam Case and Yaquina View Elementary Schools in Newport participated; each class was matched with one or more science mentors. Oregon Sea Grant and volunteer coordinators organize the Science Fair in partnership with the schools. Cheryl and Christina (in her 5th year volunteering as a mentor) worked at Sam Case Elementary School, helping to develop and conduct experiments investigating plant growth and factors influencing soil permeability.

Science Fair participant : Anastasia Kaldy in front of her group’s project – effects of soil types

Anastasia Kaldy in front of her group’s project – effects of soil types

Cheryl’s class tested the effect of different factors on plant growth and survival.  Each group came up with their own factor/hypothesis that they tested.  Factors selected included the effect of salt, detergent, soda vs diet soda, Gatorade, effect of soil type (dirt, sand, and coffee), if plants could grow on ramen noodles, and the effect of burning plant leaves, as some of the boys just wanted to burn something.

Christina’s class worked with how different soil composition influences water retention. Students used different materials (sand, clay, pine needles, pebbles, etc.) to create multiple soil treatments in plastic cups with holes in the bottom for drainage.  They ‘made it rain’ on the cups several times over the two week period and recorded the weight of each cup at specific times after the “rain” to see which combination of materials retained the most water.

The event was a great experience for students and mentors alike. It showed the promise of making the connection between working scientists and young people in science, technology, engineering, and math activities.

About the Author: Information services specialist Coral Tily wrote this post in cooperation with Cheryl Brown (oceanographer), Christina Folger (marine ecologist), and Joan Hurley (senior environmental employment grantee).

Read “Science Fair A Big Success,” an article about the Newport Science Fair in the local paper

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Kid Scientists Shine at White House Event

By Amanda Kaufman

Kaufman SoSTEm

Amanda Kaufman at the SoSTEM event.

President Obama’s last State of the Union address on January 12th called for giving everyone a fair shot at opportunity, including offering every student the “hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.” The United States government, including EPA, is supporting this call by encouraging the next generation of scientists and engineers. There IS hope—and I experienced firsthand that hope with a group of young students at the White House just last week.

On January 13th, my colleague Joel Creswell and I demonstrated some of EPA’s emerging air sensor technologies research at a post-State of the Union event at the White House called the State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Address (SoSTEM). SoSTEM brought in students from all over—the Bronx, Baltimore, DC, and more—to showcase innovative science and technology to excite the imaginations of the students and encourage them to follow their dreams and passions no matter how insurmountable they may seem. Over 150 students from 5th through 12th grade attended the event.

I was lucky enough to spend several hours with these kids while I exhibited a variety of portable, lower-cost citizen science air monitors. They also got to build their own air pollution sensors using LED lights, microprocessors, electrical circuitry, and particulate matter (PM) sensors using kits designed by EPA research engineer Gayle Hagler. These energetic students had lots of questions about the sensors and air pollution in general, and I was amazed by how much they already knew about both topics or just figured out as we played with the various devices.

This event also featured presentations by NASA, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the National Institutes of Health, and some words of wisdom and encouragement from White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, as well as several others.

The day ended with a live question-and-answer video chat session with scientists working at the South Pole. The students lined up eagerly to ask questions about what it’s like to live at the South Pole and what kinds of challenges they face in such a harsh environment.

Throughout the day, I was constantly impressed by the vision and enthusiasm exhibited by each of the young people, which inspired me to think of what future discoveries they would bring. All this “controlled chaos of enthusiasm” was accompanied by inquiring student reporters making their rounds with thoughtful questions. It was great to see these kids link what they were seeing to school subjects, making the connection between the microprocessors used in the air sensors and those being used in their computer science or robotics classes.

With support from President Obama and others, these kids are a shining example of our future. The common message given to students throughout the day was to stick with their dreams, to never give up, and to never stop dreaming. Quoting John Holdren, “The spirit of discovery is in our DNA…You [the students] are at the core of President Obama’s vision for the future.”

Check out a few more resources and a video from this event, below:

EPA Air Sensor Toolbox for Citizen Scientists

Report to the President: Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) For America’s Future

About the Author: Amanda Kaufman is an ORISE participant hosted by EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy national research program.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Cooking Up Solutions to Climate Change

By Natalie Liller

EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop

EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop

June 15-19th, 2015 marked EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop—and even more importantly, it summoned the latest group of talented high-school-aged students to learn about the science behind taking action on climate change. This year, the program focused on climate science and the impacts of climate change. World-class scientists, engineers, and policy experts demonstrated their research and led hands-on activities to encourage innovative thinking.

The program’s goal is to reach out to students with a keen interest in science and climate change and equip them with the knowledge and resources to go out into their homes, schools, and communities to raise awareness and to encourage others to act. EPA’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Outreach Program, under the leadership of Director Kelly Witter, is engaging these young, bright, and enthusiastic students to extend their knowledge on climate change and build their confidence to become the scientific leaders of their generation.

EPA's Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D. shares the latest cookstove innovations.

EPA’s Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D. shares the latest cookstove innovations.

As a part of their week-long education, the students were able to see sustainable energy being harnessed while speaking to the scientists and engineers about their work. During one session, the students learned about the technology behind biomass-burning cookstoves and solar ovens with Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D., an EPA Post-Doctoral Fellow. With this first-hand exposure, the students constructed their own solar ovens using recycled pizza boxes and aluminum foil and then baked cookies. These excited students were able to take their knowledge on solar power and apply it to an everyday need—cooking.

Unfortunately, it is not all “milk and cookies.” There is a monumental need for change on a global scale to combat the effects of climate change, present and future. Witter believes that students will be the largest advocates for climate awareness because “they understand and appreciate the science.” She hopes that through this program the students will take their “enthusiasm and passion for protecting the environment and share it with their peers to make a difference and help slow the impacts.” And they are doing just that—six program students are already working on educating their peers with hopes of creating a Climate Club chapter at their respective schools. Cassidy Leovic (Riverside High School) said that the goal of the clubs will be to “inform peers on what they can do,” focusing on energy conservation and sustainable food choices. EPA is thrilled to see these students taking action and looks forward to seeing them continue to foster this enthusiasm and change in the coming years.

About the Author: Natalie Liller is a sophomore at Appalachian State University, majoring in Political Science, Pre-Legal Studies and Environmental Science. This summer she is interning at EPA to focus on educating students on environmental science and climate change.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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La Semana de la Educación Ambiental 2015

Por Stan Meiburg y Diane Wood

Esta semana del 19 al 25 de abril, la EPA y la Fundación Nacional de Educación Ambiental (NEEF, por sus siglas en inglés) están celebrando la Semana Nacional de la Educación Ambiental en conjunto con miles de estudiantes y maestros en todo el país. Mediante la educación ambiental, los educadores enseñan a los estudiantes cómo la ciencia es parte de sus vidas cotidianas, le enseñan destrezas para desarrollar un entendimiento más profundo acerca de los asuntos ambientales, y les instan a tomar decisiones responsables. El Día del Planeta Tierra, cae justo a mitad de la Semana de Educación Ambiental este año. Es un momento importante para reflexionar sobre nuestro impacto medioambiental y qué podemos hacer para proteger nuestro planeta.

Durante los últimos años, la NEEF ha dirigido los esfuerzos de la Semana de Educación Ambiental enfocándose en “Enverdecer las STEM” al alentar a los maestros y a los estudiantes a explorar la conexión entre el mundo natural y las STEM, la sigla en inglés que representa las ciencias, tecnología, ingeniería, y matemáticas. La educación en las STEM provee las bases para cuestionar, investigar, interpretar y finalmente proteger el mundo que nos rodea. Dentro del salón de clases de las STEM, la educación ambiental puede ayudar a los estudiantes a establecer la relación entre las fórmulas que aparecen en la pizarra con las experiencias del mundo real al aire libre. La educación ambiental y las STEM en conjunto equipan a los estudiantes con las destrezas necesarias para analizar críticamente e identificar soluciones eficaces a los problemas ambientales.

Durante esta Semana de la Educación Ambiental, oficinas de la EPA en todo el país están trabajando con sus comunidades para conectar a educadores, así como a jóvenes ambientalistas destacados—los nuevos ganadores del Premio Presidencial Ambiental Juvenil. Los ganadores de este año están restaurando ecosistemas degradados, explorando nuevas opciones interesantes sobre alternativas de combustible, y movilizando nuestras comunidades a apoyar las soluciones sostenibles a los problemas medioambientales. Luego este año, la Oficina de Educación Ambiental de la EPA anunciará las entidades que recibirán nuestras subvenciones de educación ambiental. Cada año, otorgamos $3.5 millones en subvenciones a distritos escolares, gobiernos locales, programas tribales educativos y a otros socios para apoyar proyectos de educación ambiental a fin de promover la concientización, la protección ambiental y el desarrollo de destrezas.

El Día del Planeta Tierra, el personal de la NEEF visitará la Escuela Elemental de Nizhoni en Shiprock, Nuevo México para inaugurar un nuevo laboratorio de las STEM en el patio escolar que será un espacio singular de aprendizaje donde los estudiantes y maestros podrán participar en actividades prácticas manuales que destacan el proceso de “enverdecer” las actividades de las STEM, incluyendo un invernadero para investigaciones científicas y estaciones al aire libre para realizar proyectos de ingeniería y mucho más.

Estas experiencias singulares son la esencia de la educación ambiental—el alentar a los estudiantes a combinar las destrezas de lo aprendido en el salón de clases con su curiosidad acerca del mundo natural. Nos toca a todos nosotros brindarles la oportunidad para descubrir soluciones a los retos medioambientales. Estamos muy entusiasmados de poder explorar las conexiones entre la educación ambiental y las STEM durante todo el año para ayudar a los maestros a encontrar maneras más atrayentes de enriquecer la educación mediante temas ambientales.

Hay muchas maneras en las cuales puede participar. Conviértase en un embajador de la Semana de la Educacion Ambiental. Salga al aire libre esta semana e aprenda algo nuevo acerca del mundo natural. Comparta su entendimiento e inste a todos a su alrededor a hacer lo mismo. Encuentre recursos para su salón de clases o para su hijo en y visite esta página para aprender más acerca de cómo se puede unir a las celebraciones de esta Semana Nacional de la Educación Ambiental.

Acerca de los autores: Stan Meiburg es el subadministrador de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de Estados Unidos y Diane Wood es la presidenta de la Fundación Nacional de Educación Ambiental.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Environmental Education Week 2015

This week, April 19-25, EPA and the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) are celebrating National Environmental Education Week along with thousands of students and teachers across the country. Through environmental education, educators show students how science is a part of our daily lives, teach them the skills to develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues, and encourage them to make responsible decisions. Earth Day, which falls in the middle of Environmental Education Week this year, is an important time to reflect on our environmental impact and what we can do to protect our planet.

Over the past several years, NEEF has led Environmental Education Week by focusing on “Greening STEM,” encouraging teachers and students to explore the connection between the natural world and STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM education provides the building blocks for questioning, investigating, interpreting, and ultimately protecting the world around us. Within the STEM classroom, environmental education can help students relate the formulas on the whiteboard to real world, outdoor experiences. Environmental education and STEM together equip students to critically analyze and identify effective solutions to environmental problems.

This Environmental Education Week, EPA offices across the country are working with their communities to connect with educators as well as recognize outstanding young environmental stewards—the new winners of the President’s Environmental Youth Award. This year’s winners are directly restoring damaged ecosystems, exploring exciting new alternative fuel options, and mobilizing their communities to support sustainable solutions to environmental problems. Later this year, our Office of Environmental Education will announce recipients of our Environmental Education Grants. Each year, we award $3.5 million to school districts, local governments, universities, tribal education programs, and other partners to support environmental education projects promoting awareness, stewardship, and skill building.

On Earth Day, NEEF staff will visit Nizhoni Elementary School in Shiprock, New Mexico, for the unveiling of a brand new Schoolyard STEM Lab, a unique learning space where students and teachers can participate in hands-on activities that exhibit the “greening” of STEM activities, from a greenhouse for science investigations to outdoor stations for engineering projects and more.

These unique experiences are what environmental education is all about—encouraging students to combine the skills they learn in the classroom with their curiosity about the natural world. It’s up to all of us to give them the chance to discover solutions to environmental challenges. We’re excited to explore the connections between environmental education and STEM throughout the year and to help teachers find the most engaging ways to enrich education through environmental themes.

There are many ways to get involved. Be an Environmental Education Week ambassador. Get outside this week and learn something new about the natural world. Share your understanding and encourage those around you to do the same. Find resources for your classroom or your child at http://www2.epa.gov/students/lesson-plans-teacher-guides-and-online-resources-educators and visit http://eeweek.org/ to learn more about how you can join the environmental education Week celebration.

About the authors: Stan Meiburg is the U.S. EPA Acting Deputy Administrator and Diane Wood is the President of the National Environmental Education Foundation.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment , Nifty Fifty , Science Education , STEM , USA Science & Engineering Festival

By Ken Olden, Ph.D.

 

EPA "Nifty Fifty" scientist Dr. Kenneth Olden

EPA “Nifty Fifty” scientist Dr. Kenneth Olden

Is there something in this world that you would like to see changed? Disease, hunger, health care—I believe we all have things we want to change. That desire for change is how I got to the position that I am in today.

I grew up on a farm along the Appalachian Mountains in rural Tennessee, among the worst poverty in the United States. We were poor, hungry, and I didn’t like the environment in which we lived. I looked around my community and I knew that if we wanted something to change, one of us would need to break out and become a leader. So I thought, why not me?

I decided then that I needed to work hard, go to college, and keep going until I acquired the education to become part of the leadership class. I shined shoes before and after school for 15 cents a pair—that’s how I paid for my first year of college.

I started at Knoxville College in 1956 and earned a B.S. in Biology. Then I earned a M.S. in Genetics from the University of Michigan. After that, I earned my Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Biochemistry from Temple University in 1970.

I made history when I became the first African American to direct one of the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Today, as the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, I have a platform from EPA, one of the nation’s top environmental and health organizations, for addressing the issues and problems I’ve wanted to see changed since I was a kid.

Picture of Capital City Public Charter School

Capital City Public Charter School, Washington, DC.

Recently, I had the opportunity to share these experiences with students at the Capital City Public Charter School. I was asked to speak at the school as part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s “Nifty Fifty (times 4)” program. The program is linking 200 noted science and engineering professionals with middle schools across the Washington, DC area. My fellow “Niftys” and I are sharing stories about our science and career paths throughout the current school year.

I asked the students if there was anything in the world they would like to see changed. One student wanted to change how people perceive hip-hop. Another wanted equality for women in the workforce. Every student agreed that there was something they wanted to see changed.

My question back to them was: “Why not you?”

You have your lifetime ahead of you to make a difference. Everything that has been discovered to date—it’s all just the beginning! There are just as many possibilities for discovery now as there was when I was in middle school. You can make those discoveries and you can make a difference.

I didn’t like seeing health disparity or people living in unhealthy environments when I was their age, and I wanted to change things. I set out in 1956 to make a difference and at 76, I can say I have lived a good life—I have had the opportunity to make a difference. Now it’s their turn.

About the Author: The Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, Dr. Ken Olden has published extensively in peer-reviewed literature, chaired or co-chaired numerous national and international meetings, and has been an invited speaker at more than 200 symposia.

Dr. Olden has won a long list of honors and awards including the Presidential Distinguished Executive Rank Award, the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award for sustained extraordinary accomplishments, the Toxicology Forum’s Distinguished Fellow Award, the HHS Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, the American College of Toxicology’s First Distinguished Service Award, and the National Minority Health Leadership Award. From 1991-2005, he served as the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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You Can Make A Difference: How I Became a “Nifty Fifty”

By Ken Olden, Ph.D.

 

EPA "Nifty Fifty" scientist Dr. Kenneth Olden

EPA “Nifty Fifty” scientist Dr. Kenneth Olden

Is there something in this world that you would like to see changed? Disease, hunger, health care—I believe we all have things we want to change. That desire for change is how I got to the position that I am in today.

I grew up on a farm along the Appalachian Mountains in rural Tennessee, among the worst poverty in the United States. We were poor, hungry, and I didn’t like the environment in which we lived. I looked around my community and I knew that if we wanted something to change, one of us would need to break out and become a leader. So I thought, why not me?

I decided then that I needed to work hard, go to college, and keep going until I acquired the education to become part of the leadership class. I shined shoes before and after school for 15 cents a pair—that’s how I paid for my first year of college.

I started at Knoxville College in 1956 and earned a B.S. in Biology. Then I earned a M.S. in Genetics from the University of Michigan. After that, I earned my Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Biochemistry from Temple University in 1970.

I made history when I became the first African American to direct one of the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Today, as the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, I have a platform from EPA, one of the nation’s top environmental and health organizations, for addressing the issues and problems I’ve wanted to see changed since I was a kid.

Picture of Capital City Public Charter School

Capital City Public Charter School, Washington, DC.

Recently, I had the opportunity to share these experiences with students at the Capital City Public Charter School. I was asked to speak at the school as part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s “Nifty Fifty (times 4)” program. The program is linking 200 noted science and engineering professionals with middle schools across the Washington, DC area. My fellow “Niftys” and I are sharing stories about our science and career paths throughout the current school year.

I asked the students if there was anything in the world they would like to see changed. One student wanted to change how people perceive hip-hop. Another wanted equality for women in the workforce. Every student agreed that there was something they wanted to see changed.

My question back to them was: “Why not you?”

You have your lifetime ahead of you to make a difference. Everything that has been discovered to date—it’s all just the beginning! There are just as many possibilities for discovery now as there was when I was in middle school. You can make those discoveries and you can make a difference.

I didn’t like seeing health disparity or people living in unhealthy environments when I was their age, and I wanted to change things. I set out in 1956 to make a difference and at 76, I can say I have lived a good life—I have had the opportunity to make a difference. Now it’s their turn.

About the Author: The Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, Dr. Ken Olden has published extensively in peer-reviewed literature, chaired or co-chaired numerous national and international meetings, and has been an invited speaker at more than 200 symposia.

Dr. Olden has won a long list of honors and awards including the Presidential Distinguished Executive Rank Award, the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award for sustained extraordinary accomplishments, the Toxicology Forum’s Distinguished Fellow Award, the HHS Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, the American College of Toxicology’s First Distinguished Service Award, and the National Minority Health Leadership Award. From 1991-2005, he served as the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Chasing the “WOW!” With Citizen Schools and EPA Science

By Andrew Murray

Students share their final presentations.

Students share their final presentations.

When I was first asked to lead an after school Citizen Schools apprenticeship, I was fairly apprehensive. Sure, I had taught plenty of episodic classroom presentations and felt comfortable around kids, but committing to teach the same 20 students every week? It was a bit intimidating at first, especially since I’ve never been trained as a teacher and just graduated from college myself.

I was quickly reassured that Citizen Schools is all about having non-teachers teaching; thus the reason it’s called “Citizen” Schools. Volunteer “Citizen Teachers” teach after school hands-on apprenticeships on topics from their careers and expertise. The apprenticeships are taught for 90 minutes, once a week, for 10 weeks, with a final showcase at the end of the semester. The Citizen Schools program targets low-income middle schools to close the “opportunity gap” through academic enrichment and career insight. EPA has been participating in the Durham, NC Citizen Schools program for seven years, at both Neal Middle School and Lowe’s Grove Middle School.

Last fall, I was lucky enough to join a team of veteran EPA employees teaching at Lowe’s Grove. Our apprenticeship was called “Power Play,” which focused on studying various energy generation methods, and their relations to pollution and climate change.

Once we decided on what we were going to teach, we pitched our apprenticeship at the Citizen School Apprenticeship Fair. The students then get the opportunity to sign up for the apprenticeships that interest them. I watched the veterans pitch the apprenticeship a couple of times, and then took my first swing at it. After seeing the kids get excited, my own excitement and confidence grew and, suddenly, I was hooked.

Over the following ten weeks, we would meet with the students every Wednesday after school and teach them about energy and the environment. We built solar ovens, wind turbines, and water wheels, and learned about energy consumption and modeling through an Energy Generation board game developed by EPA colleagues.

"GENERATE!" board game developed by EPA researchers.

“Generate,” a board game developed by EPA researchers.

Every week was mentally challenging, but extremely rewarding. It all lead up to the final presentations – the WOW! event where the students had the chance to “teach back” to the public, their teachers, and their families. For me, the WOW! was what made teaching the apprenticeship addicting. After seeing what the students took away and how excited they were to present it and teach it to the public, I realized what a difference the citizen teachers make in the lives of these students.

The new semester of Citizen School is about to start, and I will be teaching with the same team again at Lowe’s Grove. We will be leading an apprenticeship on “Making Sense of Air Quality,” while another team leads an apprenticeship at Neal on “Environmental Sensing.” I’m so excited to get back in the classroom to make a difference in the lives of another class of up-and-coming environmental experts!

About the Author: Andrew Murray is a Student Services Contractor for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in 2009, and a received B.S. in Environmental Science from NC State University in 2014.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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On a Roll with “SustainableJoes”

By Kelly Witter

EPA's Kelley Witter talks sustainability inside an ELF.

EPA’s Kelly Witter talks sustainability from an ELF.

One of the many reasons I love working at EPA is that I enjoy being around people who share my passion for the environment. But when your day job is devoted to environmental protection it’s easy to be complacent about becoming more sustainable. After all, feeling guilty about the occasional slip up, such as not being able to compost my banana peel at lunch, is not enough.

Then, last week, Stephen Szucs of SustainableJoes.com rolled into Durham on a solar- and pedal-powered trike called an ELF. In an instant, he inspired me and many of my colleagues to “rethink” with our actions, not just our words. Stephen is traveling from Canada to Key West, essentially couch surfing the continent, on a “Rethink” tour to expand the conversation on sustainability and to help drive behavior change.

Stephen aims to create the world’s largest sustainability network and make sustainability EASY. He is spontaneous – always looking for an opportunity to engage the public in conversation about his sustainable journey and how little things can make a difference if a lot of people do them. Each person Stephen meets is asked to make a personal sustainability pledge, and he has collected nearly 2000 pledges thus far in in his 5,000 km journey.

He strives to share his message with everyone—especially students. As the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) outreach coordinator for EPA’s laboratory campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, I had the opportunity to have Stephen join me at a Durham middle school to evaluate student proposals on world peace. He was all in. And there we were, listening to proposals and sharing sustainability with a real judge, a school board member, and a sheriff.

Next stop was the Food Truck Rodeo at Research Triangle Park. To get there, a group of seven of us traveled from EPA—by bike and ELF. We definitely generated some sustainability conversation when our pedal/solar powered posse rolled in. The “Rethink” tour truly embodies the Gandhi quote, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

OK, so was I inspired to action by SustainableJoes rolling into my life for three days? Did I rethink anything? I did. Nothing huge (yet), but I did rethink and redo a few things this weekend: 1) I used a solar clothes dryer (hung my laundry out on the lawn furniture); 2) My kids and I used rakes to clean up the leaves from our yard; and 3) I joined Durham’s new, soon-to-be food co-op.

Would I have done any of these things otherwise? Probably not, because it is easier to keep doing the same things in the same way, and that is what SustainableJoes is challenging us to rethink.

My take home messages are that we need to start from where we are, rethinking and moving forward and that, it doesn’t matter what we call it as long as we are doing the right thing.

About the Author: EPA environmental engineer Kelly Witter is the Director of STEM Outreach for the Agency’s laboratory campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Editor’s Note: Today (November 6, 2014), Kelly welcomes students from Wake, NC State University STEM Early College High School who will be shadowing her at EPA as part of “Learning about careers is STEMtastic!”—stay tuned for a blog about that in the near future.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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This Week in EPA Science – Halloween Edition

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

What do most movies about zombies, aliens, robots, and monsters have in common with Research Recap? It All Starts with Science! Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circle

Of course, you can’t always believe what you see in the movies. Here’s some real research that’s been highlighted by EPA this week (and won’t give you nightmares). Happy Halloween!

  • Prescriptions for Cleaner Waterways Left with expired, unwanted prescriptions, many people will pour them down the sink or flush them away. In a recently published study, EPA scientist Christian Daughton presents ways to reduce the active ingredients of pharmaceuticals from getting into our waterways. Read more.
  • Strengthening IRIS: Cultivating Broad Scientific Input EPA has embraced recommendations by the National Research Council to broaden the input they receive while conducting health assessments in the Agency’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). “Bringing more scientific minds to the table will only strengthen our assessments by encouraging a more robust discussion,” writes IRIS scientist Louis D’Amico, Ph.D. Read more.
  • Broadcom MASTERS EPA’s Drs. Denice Shaw and Tina Bahadori, along with Melissa Anley-Mills, participated in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) event with the Broadcom MASTERS finalists. Broadcom MASTERS is a national STEM competition for U.S. 6th, 7th, and 8th graders that aims to inspire and encourage future scientists, engineers, and innovators. Read more.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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