The Village Green Project: An Opportunity for STEM Enrichment (without the Lab Coat)

By Kelly Leovic

FinalLogo_KLThankfully, all hands in the classroom eagerly shot up when I said, “Raise your hand if you are a human.”  I began by explaining to the fifth graders that our job at EPA is to protect human heath and the environment. I then asked if they breathe, eat or drink, or play in water.

As the director of EPA’s STEM (which stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math”) outreach program in Research Triangle Park (RTP), I’m always eager to find ways to engage our scientists, engineers, and other employees in science outreach and education.

We give presentations, share hands-on activities, mentor, and regularly participate in community events. Each year, more than 200 employees (~10 percent of our RTP workforce) participate in at least one outreach event. In 2012, we participated in 171 school events, 100 of them at schools serving low-income populations.

While one of our objectives is to inspire students to gain an interest in science and the environment, one of the challenges is giving them a taste of how much FUN scientists can have doing field work (they don’t just work inside decked out in white lab coats and geeky protective goggles).

One solution: the Village Green Project!

The Village Green Project is a prototype solar-powered air monitor that EPA scientists developed to place in a central location for about one year.

We explored several possible partnerships for the Village Green site and are excited to announce that it will soon be installed at the South Regional Branch of the Durham County Library, whose design theme is conveniently “Air!” This location fits our key criteria, and we are excited to join forces with the library’s existing outreach program to share STEM enrichment opportunities.

Additionally, the library is located across from Lowes Grove Middle School, which will become a STEM magnet school in the fall of 2013. EPA has participated in STEM outreach at Lowes Grove for several years, and we are excited about the opportunity the Village Green Project will offer our scientists who teach after-school Citizen School Apprenticeships.

Instead of talks and showing pictures about what scientists do, we will be able to leave the lab coats and goggles behind and walk outdoors to experience REAL FIELD WORK. It may just be fun enough to inspire some future scientists!

About the author: Kelly Leovic is the director of EPA-RTP’s STEM Outreach Program and has worked for the EPA as an environmental engineer since 1987. She enjoys spending time with her three teenagers (really!) and plans to bring them on a field trip to see the Village Green Project.

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