“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” ~ Baba Dioum
NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION ACADEMY
I am fortunate to do what I love as the coordinator of the Natural Resources Conservation Academy (nrca.uconn.edu), and that is preparing young scientists to tackle real-world environmental issues so that they can contribute to conservation and wise land management decisions in their community.
At the Natural Resources Conservation Academy, we engage high school students in environmental science and conservation through two intricately linked parts: a field experience and an independent conservation project. At the field experience, students come to the University of Connecticut (UConn) where they learn from UConn faculty, graduate students, and other environmental scientists about a variety of topics from geospatial technology to green infrastructure to forestry to fish and wildlife. But, most importantly, they learn about these topics out in the field, applying the skills and knowledge they learn.
After the field experience, students return home and apply their new knowledge to a conservation project for the next 7-months under the guidance of myself and a local conservation leader. These conservation projects tackle a variety of local environmental issues such as guiding restoration efforts, promoting green infrastructure practices, monitoring wildlife to assess management success, and developing interpretive trails and user-friendly field guides. At the end of the program, students present their work at the Connecticut Conference on Natural Resources and are formally recognized as “Connecticut Conservation Ambassadors.”
What's a BioBlitz, you say? Only one of the most fantastic times you'll have within 24 hours. As Dr. Uzay Sezen put it, "it's a race against time to record as many species as possible." A bioblitz is a 24-hour marathon of biodiversity inventory, driven by expert and amateur naturalists within a given area. In this case, seven of us from the Departments of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Natural Resources & the Environment came together to put on the first ever UConn BioBlitz at the Storrs campus in July 2015. After an all-nighter in the field and at the microscopes, we identified a whopping 1181 species of plants, animals, and fungi. In addition to all the fun had by the naturalists, the public joined in by helping scientists in the field or participating in organized tours, nature walks, and workshops. Check out the UConn BioBlitz website to learn more.
Elementary Environmental Outreach
One of my fondest memories is learning about rainforests in my second grade class with Mrs. Kitzman. We learned about different species and the roles they played in the ecosystem; we transformed our school hallway into a paper mache jungle; and we had wildlife biologists visit our classroom with various tropical critters (my favorite being the sloth!). From then on I was hooked and knew I wanted to do something involving science and the environment.
Because of those experiences, environmental outreach geared towards elementary school students has been a primary focus of mine. As such, I have tried to be involved with outreach where ever I'm at in the world; from working at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Science Camp in Michigan to teaching environmental classes in Spanish in Costa Rican banana plantation communities (pictures to the left) to leading an English class on a local national park in Taiwan (middle picture) to collaborating with other UConn graduate students to introduce children to adaptations of species to their environment in Connecticut (pictures to the right).