Environmental education is an essential part of increasing the public’s knowledge of the direct relationship between themselves and their surrounding environment. The Thomas More University Biology Field Station is home to the Center for Ohio River Research and Education (CORRE) and plays a major role in educating the community about the environment. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmental education also teaches critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and various viewpoints on different environmental issues. Working at the Field Station provides student interns with a chance to broaden their knowledge through research and outreach programs. The goal for these programs is to teach the importance of the Ohio River ecosystem, the surrounding watershed, and the urgency of protecting them both.
Since STEM Outreach Coordinator Emily Pickett arrived in the fall of 2018, the CORRE education programs have risen to a new level. Pickett obtained her master’s degree in biology at the University of Cincinnati. She is very passionate about environmental education and this shows through her work with the outreach program teaching children attending kindergarten through grade 12. With the help of Pickett and three summer environmental educators: RJ West, Austin Markus, and Arianna Riley; children from across the tri-state learn about the Ohio River and its biodiversity and value to the people living in the community.
The environmental educators teach four main lessons: freshwater mussels, water chemistry, macroinvertebrates, and fish anatomy. The primary goal of these lessons is to learn the importance of the Ohio River. Many people come to the Field Station misinformed about the River; they believe it’s polluted and beyond repair. By the end of the lessons, the children learn that the quality of the River can range from excellent to poor.
Meet the Environmental Educators:
RJ West, is an upcoming senior at Thomas More University. He studies biology and hopes to become a herpetologist or paleontologist. During RJ’s time at the Field Station this summer, he is required to do an independent research project. His project is a survey of fossils in the surrounding region of the Field Station. This project helps him gain more experience with research and enhances his passion for fossils. In his free time, RJ volunteers at the Cincinnati Museum Center in the paleontology center. Similar to others, before learning about the quality of the Ohio River, RJ believed it was dirty. He was especially surprised that people swim in the water. Although RJ has since learned that the quality of the river can be outstanding; he claims he will still NEVER swim in it.
RJ is the main teacher of the water chemistry lesson. RJ chose to teach this lesson because he thoroughly enjoys water chemistry and has past experience with it. RJ states, “Water chemistry is important because it is used to test the temperature, pH, etc. If any of those do not meet all standards, it could have negative effects on the ecosystem. It also tells us how healthy water sources are.” During RJ’s lesson, he uses a YSI probe to determine the temperature, pH level, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity of the Ohio River. The results from the River are then compared to the water quality of the indoor classroom tank. The results, more often than not, show that the quality of the river is the same or in some instances better than the results of the classroom tank. When asked what his favorite part of being an environmental educator is, RJ responded, “Having a positive impact on students and making connections with them.” During every field trip, RJ forms a “squad” with all of the students. RJ says, “Making the kids feel as though they are a part of something makes them more interested and willing to learn.”
Austin Markus is going to be a junior at Thomas More University in fall 2019. He is majoring in biology and takes part in many TMU activities such as the Blue & Green Club, the Biology Club, the Marine Biology Class, Scuba Club, and is also the president of the Video Game Table Top Club. Austin has a lot of experience working with children, being a camp counselor for camp WAVE and now teaching classes at the Field Station. Austin’s future plans include working for the Disney resort and spa, Aulani, in Hawaii, doing water chemistry and being a dive technician. The social skills he has gained from working at the Field Station and gaining water chemistry experience will help with his future plan. Austin is the main teacher of the macroinvertebrate lesson. Examples of some macroinvertebrates in the Ohio River include leeches and water-pennies. Macroinvertebrates are a good indicator of water quality.
Arianna Riley, a sophomore at Thomas More University, plans to major in biology with minors in both English and environmental science. She is interested in various fields. Her future plans vary from zoologist to going to law school to become an environmental lawyer. When asked what her favorite part of the internship is so far, she replied with, “The Field Station has really helped me come out of my box. I have discovered a new excitement to learn new things and meet new people. I had no previous experience working with kids so teaching was intimidating to me at first but I have learned to love it. I have also met some really great people.” One of the biggest lessons she has learned since starting at the Field Station is that sometimes she is going to mess up and that’s okay, but to go into every situation open minded and expect to learn. Arianna teaches the fish anatomy lesson during STEM Outreach events.