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New York City Students Focus on Science with ESF

Week of hands-on learning features fish surveys, GIS mapping and sustainability
8/5/2015

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Hands-on field science will be the focus next week for 20 New York City high school students who travel to ESF to study ecology in urban environments.

The students are affiliated with the New York City-based non-profit organization Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) Scholars; ESF has partnered with SEO in an effort to interest more under-represented students in environmental science and related fields.

During their stay at ESF Aug. 9 to 14, the students will be exposed to a variety of topics and activities including sustainability, water ecology, GIS mapping, fisheries science and invasive species. One of the highlights will be assisting with a survey of fish species in Onondaga Lake.

"We'll be going out to different field locations, and giving them hands-on experience in some of the academic fields ESF offers, such as environmental engineering, fisheries science, ecology, dendrology and GIS mapping, said Brandon Murphy, ESF's training program coordinator. "I think a lot of these will be completely new experiences for the scholars."

The students will work with the ESF SCIENCE (Summer Camps Investigating Ecology in Neighborhood and City Environments) program, which offers a series of weeklong camps through the summer. They will stay in ESF's Centennial Hall for the week and eat their meals at Ernie Davis Hall at neighboring Syracuse University.

"This is ESF's first time doing a full overnight camp," Murphy said.

Typically, the ESF summer camps work with middle school students from the Syracuse City School District who are familiar with the surrounding environment. "Bringing up the SEO scholars is going to be a completely new environment for them," said Murphy.

SEO Scholars is a free eight-year academic program that supports low-income public school students through their high school and college years. The program has a 95 percent college graduation rate. ESF Trustee Leslie Talbot, who has been involved with the SEO Scholars, helped foster the relationship between the college and program.

According to Murphy, SEO has offered outdoor experience programs before, but this is the first time the organization has offered its participants an academic program focused on environmental science.

Emil Kim, senior program manager for SEO, said the students' trip to ESF is part of SEO's effort to expose the students to a range of academic and career possibilities. ESF, he said, is a trusted partner with a reputation as a leader in the field of environmental education.

"Many of our students are the children of immigrants, some are from single-parent or low-income homes. 85% of our scholars will be first-generation college students," he said. "One thing they lack is that exposure to environmental science and nature."

The students come from all over New York City, he said, but their exposure to the world beyond their neighborhoods has been limited. Many have never been to Central Park; most of their experience is confined to the neighborhoods around their homes, schools and SEO programs.

"They also have a shallow understanding of careers," he said. "They know there are doctors, lawyers and scientists but they aren't aware of the distinctions and nuances within each field."

One of the highlights of their stay will be the trip to Onondaga Lake. "They'll be documenting the fish species in the lake and their abundance," said Murphy. They'll also be doing a couple of engineering projects related to water such as water filtering and a stream modeling project while they're out on the lake.

It won't all be work though. "We'll be teaching them how to fish while we're out there," he said, "so they'll experience some of the recreational side of things. The love of the environment is what brings a lot of students to ESF in the first place."

The campers will begin their junior year in the fall. "These are very motivated students so good candidates for ESF students," said Murphy. "And they've all self-selected for this environmental science program so I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

Said Kim: "We want our students to be good stewards of the environment, to take care of the world. The most effective way to do that is to have them interact with the natural world and fall in love with it."