Earth Day every day: Engaging youth in Great Lakes and natural resources science through research and place-based education

Students from northeast MI and Saginaw Bay participate in Wayne State University’s Southeast Michigan Junior Science and Humanities Symposium - applying research and exploring careers.

Three students and two adults who participated in the symposium are shown standing and sitting near a display of the student posters that describes their research.
The symposium drew over 25 student participants, and younger students also attended to learn more and get excited about leading research projects in the future! Here are some of the participants and their teachers, (LtoR) Helen-Ann Cordes, Alcona Community Schools; students Rose Schopfer and Jerzey Brown; Brandon Schroeder, Michigan Sea Grant; Sitting: Student Emma Schroeder. Photo: Jerzey Brown

Earth Day celebrates our planet’s natural resources each year on April 22. First celebrated in 1970 with the support of Gaylord Nelson, former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Earth Day signals the launch of the modern environmental movement. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and we are highlighting student stewards and the ways they are protecting the Great Lakes through their learning.

At the end of February, more than 25 students across eastern Michigan were represented at Wayne State University’s Southeast Michigan Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, where they presented their high school science and research.

Facilitated by Michigan Sea Grant Extension and their school educators, student researchers were connected with Great Lakes and natural resources science partners as they explored their research topics, and eventually developed their projects. Over the course of several months, students conducted their research, and were accepted to share their research during this juried science and humanities symposium. Additionally, schools and student project teams received additional project and partner support toward their projects through the Sea Grant Center for Great Lakes Literacy, the MiSTEM Network, and Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative.

For three student teams, Great Lakes and natural resources science and research was the theme of the day. These student-led projects were made possible by a National Science Teacher Association incentive grant secured by Wayne State University in partnership with Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension, with a goal to recruit schools to the program through the lens of Great Lakes and natural resource science and research explorations.

Presentations and research posters by these newly engaged schools and students included:

  • Investigating the Frequency of Invasive Phragmites Observations in the Saginaw Bay Region (Bailey Lichtenwald, Senior, Bay-Arenac Community High School)
    Bailey Lichtenwald
    Bailey Lichtenwald is a senior at Bay-Arenac Community High School and interested in botany as a future career focus. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant
    • Lichtenwald compared the distribution of invasive Phragmites Australis across different platforms used for mapping invasive species and biodiversity, including iNaturalist, Midwest Invasive Species Information Network, and Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System (GLANSIS). He found there was more data collected by researchers than by citizen scientists, and also found a gap in research, where data from MISIN was not coded correctly for a subspecies leading to GLANSIS showing no Michigan observations of invasive phragmites. Based on his research he recommended a change in the way data was coded. The experience was incredible. I was given the opportunity to experience the work I would do if I were to continue in this field. I think this program is a good opportunity for kids to get a taste for different possible career paths,” said Lichtenwald.
  • Monitoring Pitcher’s Thistle on Big Charity Island (Emily McMann, Junior; Au Gres-Sims School District and now with Standish-Sterling Schools)
    • McMann analyzed student-collected Pitcher’s Thistle from Big Charity Island, part of Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, assessing the impact of habitat
      EmilyMcMann-MeaghanGass
      Emily McMann was mentored by MI Sea Grant Extension Educator, Meaghan Gass and Brandon Schroeder, and switched schools while completing this research! Photo: Michigan Sea Grant
      quality on population density. She used data collected by students from Au Gres-Sims Elementary School to analyze trends in plant numbers, age groups, and location. Data analysis showed declining Pitcher’s Thistle numbers over time and “the overall population densities demonstrated that the strongest population density is in the primary habitats instead of secondary habitats,” said McMann. Her research poster was selected for third place in the poster presentations, and she received a $100 award for her research.
  • New Windows Compared to Old Windows, Do They Maintain Heat Efficiently (Rose Schopfer, Senior, Alcona Community High School)
    • Schopfer led a school-campus study, collaborating with Jerzey Brown, looking at how “how new window technologies could offer energy (environment) and cost (economic) savings.” Schopfer
      RoseSchopfer1stPlacePosterJerzeyBrown-Photographer (1)
      Rose Schopfer is shown with her first place poster award. Photo: Jerzey Brown
      and Brown recorded temperature of a set of new and old windows at Alcona Community High School, where some windows are over 60 years old. Their goal was to study and compare the heat loss in classrooms between the two types of windows. “We found that new windows performed 21.7% more energy efficient, concluding that new windows performed more efficiently than old windows,” said Schopfer. The research was shared with Alcona Community School Board of Education, who are currently considering upgrading windows at the school. Schopfer’s research poster was selected for first place in the poster presentations, and she received a $300 award. "The opportunity I was given to compete in this symposium was so empowering. Not only was I able to conduct my own research, but I was also given the chance to present it to people who wanted to listen. It also helps prepare me for future research opportunities I hope to have in college! Overall, it was an awesome experience that I would encourage anyone to do,” said Schopfer.

The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium launched in 1958, and is sponsored by the U.S. Army Education Programs in collaboration with the National Science Teaching Association. Wayne State University serves as the local host. Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension Educators serve on the Advisory Board for this Michigan Symposium; and are long-time contributors in supporting event activities and judging student research submissions during this state Jr. Science and Humanities Symposium each year.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 34 university-based programs.

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