Planting Seeds


Summer is the time for youth camps, whether they’re sports, arts, or a little bit of everything.  Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure to visit a very unique summer camp in the District of Columbia – “E-STEM,” the Environmental – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Leadership Camp run by Living Classrooms National Capital Region and partially sponsored by EPA. The young girls participating had already been recognized by their teachers and communities for their academic performance, along with leadership potential. I saw some of these attributes as they shared their experiences, such as the vegetables and flowers they grew in wooden pallets that had been painted and converted into mini “urban” gardens.

The camp’s green science activities seemed to have sprouted something even more – a greater interest by the middle school girls in environmental issues and maybe even in technical careers down the road.

As we sat in a semi-circle on folding chairs in an elementary school auditorium, the girls each took turns in describing their projects and field trips.

In addition to the pallet gardens, they spoke about building underwater robots, balloon-powered cars, and model cities and bridges, and practicing leadership skills.  They showed me a mural with paintings of fish they had collected and studied and, with a little coaxing, one camper presented her E-STEM rap song.

Among their field trips, the group made DNA bracelets at the National Institute of Health, scooped bug samples from the bottom of the Potomac, paddled canoes to learn about habitat and pollution in the Anacostia River, got a lesson in nutrition from an executive chef at the Kennedy Center, and watered and mulched varieties of trees at the National Arboretum.

I told them about some of the women scientists who have made a major difference in the world especially Rachel Carson, a marine biologist, who is credited with being the catalyst for the modern environmental movement. Her book, Silent Spring, published in 1962, helped lead to the creation of the EPA in 1970. In more recent times, Gina McCarthy, who is the current EPA administrator, trained as a social anthropologist and is also an environmental health engineer. Her immediate predecessor, Lisa Jackson, is a chemical engineer. This shows that the role of women in E-STEM careers continues to expand.

We talked about science being the basis of everything we do at EPA and about environmental issues that impacted them – from climate change to littering.   However, I also told them that while we have a strong focus on science and engineering at EPA, we also have important work being done by attorneys, accountants, policy analysts, planners, and many other disciplines.

I encouraged the young women to stick with their studies in math and science, whether or not they decided to pursue related careers, and to talk with their friends about their camp experiences.

I left the camp feeling good that an environmental ethic was taking root, and that girls who may not have considered a future in science knew that the doors were wide open.

Shawn Garvin is EPA’s Regional Administrator for Region 3, overseeing the Agency’s operations in Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Shawn’s career in intergovernmental affairs spans more than 20 years at the federal and local levels. He’s worked closely with Congressional delegations, governors, state and local elected leaders, environmental agencies and citizen advocacy groups. Early in his career at EPA, Shawn served as special assistant to the Regional Administrator. Shawn is a native Delawarean and graduate of the University of Delaware. He lives in Wilmington with his wife and their son.

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