January 17, 2003 — Two years ago, Larry Larson’s students at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City designed and implemented a water quality project to study the river water in Millcreek Canyon. The endeavor was one of 28 projects funded by the Environmental Research and Training Program (ERTP) and implemented by the Utah high school students in collaboration with the University of Utah and the Utah State Office of Education. With new funding from the EPA to expand the program into other western states, the University of Utah is now soliciting a new round of environmental research project proposals from high schools in Utah, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and New Mexico. The proposals are due Feb. 7.
The Millcreek project was thought of so highly by the Salt Lake County Water District that they asked the students to continue their research for one more year, offering to pay any expenses incurred by the project. As a result of their involvement in this project, all the students who participated say they plan to go to college, and two say they are going to go to the University of Utah to major in civil and environmental engineering. “We want to find the students while they’re still in high school – while there’s time for a change. And we want to increase the number of students interested in scientific research,” says Ray Beckett, ERTP’s program manager at the U’s Utah Engineering Experiment Station.
Last November, using the Millcreek project to demonstrate the potential for turning on kids to the fun of science, Rep. Jim Matheson developed and successfully promoted the passage of HR 1858, which was modeled after the ERTP project. The legislation expands the program on a national basis. HR 1858 sailed through the Senate in November with no changes from the House and was incorporated into the final National Science Foundation Congressional authorization bill. The bill provides funding to establish math and science education programs that will improve elementary and secondary science education instruction. Congress has appropriated $15 million per year to fund this program over the next five years.
Initially funded in 2000 as a demonstration project by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for high school science teachers and their students, ERTP invited 21 high schools to participate that first year and received back 28 environmental research project proposals. They were able to fund them all. Teachers and students could choose topics from a list provided, or they could meet with their local officials who had jurisdiction over environmental issues to help identify research topics for the students to investigate. Andrew Burnett, a program officer from the EPA, says this is the most unique program they’ve ever seen. Designed as a parallel system to what colleges and universities do when they develop research grants, the training prepares students to work as a team, write effective proposals, and design strong environmental projects.
“We want these students to experience how fun science can be when they apply what they’re learning in the classroom to field oriented research addressing real world environmental problems,” adds Beckett. In addition, plans are now underway to expand the program to include high school science teachers and students from Russia, China, and Kyrgyzstan. High school environmental research projects in the U.S. will be matched with those developed by students in other countries, enabling them to communicate with each other concerning their research methodologies and to compare their research finding and problem solutions.
Science teachers interested in applying or being a part of the program can contact Beckett directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or can register by accessing the program’s website address at http://www.utah.edu/uees/fair/funds.html. Science teachers will receive a $500 to $700 stipend (depending on the number of participating teachers) whose students develop and implement an environmental research project in the community.