New program engages students in environmental issues near home

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The participants and teachers of the “Green Is the New Pink” program spent last Saturday working and learning at the UM field station. On hand for the session were (front, left) faculty members Angela Whaley, Ellen Shelton, Martha Tallent and Katie Szabo, students Mary Porter Fountain of Oxford; Michaela Anderson of Saltillo; and Alex Nagle, Claire Cizdziel, Srujana Murthy, Andreel Ward, Emory Elzie, Grace Wolff and Zoe Jones, all of Oxford, and (back row) Scott Knight, Field Station manager. UM photo by Pam Starling

OXFORD, Mississippi – Students involved in the University of Mississippi’s “Green Is the New Pink: Young Women Environmentalists in Action” program recently spent a Saturday testing and observing water sources and trying their hand at electrofishing at the UM field station in northeast Lafayette County.

“I love nature,” said Mary Porter Fountain, a ninth grade student at Oxford High School. “I think it’s interesting to learn what plants and different species need to survive.”

This fall is the inaugural year of the new environmental program for girls in grades 8 to 12. It is sponsored by grants from the National Writing Project, John Legend’s Show Me Campaign, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Collective Shift.

Martha Tallent, eighth-grade science teacher at Oxford Middle School, is a faculty member for the program.

“I have a feeling that something is going on between the eighth and the 10th grade where a lot of students seem to lose interest in science,” Tallent said. “I want to teach our students to take risks in science and engage in several different science fields to see what interests them.

“There are so many disciplines and jobs in the different fields, and we want to expose them to the different options. “

A collaboration between Office of Pre-University Programs, the UM writing project, the UM field station and Audubon Strawberry Plains Center at Holly Springs, the program introduces students to real-world research strategies and arouses curiosity about the natural environment.

The interdisciplinary partnership between English and Science allows students in the program to conduct their own research, create a project, and make a presentation. They are guided through four field experiences of collecting data, exploring data, analyzing and interpreting data, and drawing conclusions.

“I’m thinking of trying some of the water quality experiments on the ponds in my neighborhood,” Fountain said.

Srujana Murthy, a ninth grader at Oxford High, said she wanted to examine some invasive species growing around a local pond and possibly reintroduce native plants to bring native birds back to the area.

“This is what happened at Strawberry Plains,” Murthy said. “The previous owner planted several non-native plants around the house and the hummingbirds have stopped coming. Once they removed them and replanted with native species, they saw many hummingbirds returning to the area.

Srujana Murthy (left) and Claire Cizdziel try their hand at electrofishing under the direction of Scott Knight, Director of UM Field Station, as part of the “Green is the New Pink” environmental program. UM photo by Pam Starling

So far this fall, students have spent a September Saturday at the Strawberry Plains Environmental Center in Holly Springs. This month, they spent a Saturday studying the ecosystem at the field station.

In February, they will return to Strawberry Plains to examine the winter wonderland and wildlife. Their last Saturday field experience will be at the field station in April to participate in environmental awareness activities surrounding Earth Day.

This month’s activities at the field station included testing the water quality of local streams and sampling the fish content through a process called electrofishing. This scientific tool involves sending a small electric current through the stream which attracts fish and makes them easier to catch. The different types of fish are registered and then released.

“Comparing the ecosystem integrity of one stream to another is only a small part of what ecology is,” said Scott Knight, director of Field Station. “In our experiments, we were trying to test integrity and sample diversity to measure the health of the environment.”

Throughout the year, participants stay connected in their research and writing through an online Google classroom, where they will reflect on their field experiences and refine the writing component of their scientific findings.

“There are so many interesting avenues in the study of ecology,” Knight said. “There are also many job opportunities in this field that we hope will open the eyes of participants.

For more information on the “Green Is the New Pink” program, visit http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/environment.


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