Getting Their Feet Wet
By: Amy Maistros & Allie Cheves
As students enter college, they are often expected to pick a major and thus establish a trajectory for their lives despite their lack of experience. The What’s in Our Waters Creative Inquiry project, in the Department of Biological Sciences, seeks to demystify the field of environmental science for pre-collegiate students by teaching them to observe and analyze local natural habitats. This Creative Inquiry project was founded by a group of graduate students; the current team of undergraduates is led by Stephanie LaPlaca, a graduate student in the Department of Biological Sciences.
The What’s in Our Waters (WOW) Creative Inquiry project utilizes a community-based science approach to engage pre-college students and community partners through the Adopt-A-Stream network. The WOW team teaches local students about the importance of macroinvertebrates in aquatic systems and how to test local streams to assess water quality. The Creative Inquiry team helps the local students to make final presentations based on their findings and to share their results with Adopt-A-Stream. Engaging young students in hands-on field studies makes learning the scientific process a fun, interactive and personal experience. Traditionally the WOW project works with middle and high school classes but broadened their audience during the COVID-19 pandemic to include other groups such as Boy Scouts of America troops.
LaPlaca attributes part of her passion for science to having similar experiences as a child. “My passion for all this stuff started way back when I was a kid, when I went to a state park program called Critter Crawl. When I was 10, I had no idea I was doing macro[invertebrate] testing, but it’s crazy that that stuck with me,” LaPlaca said. The Creative Inquiry team hopes to create similar experiences and to thus cultivate enthusiasm for science among our local youth.
Aliyah Charlot prepares a water sample for testing.
Barbara J. Speziale