Student-to-Student Presentations Explore Wetlands Research

Posted: May 17, 2013 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: June 10, 2013 at 9:24 am

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By Tara Laskowski

Student x teaches middle and high schools students what she has learned in her class this semester. Photo by Evan Cantwelll

PhD student Alicia Korol gives local middle and high schools students an overview of Mason’s Wetland Mesocosm Compound. Photo by Evan Cantwell

On a bright sunny day, middle school students from Lake Braddock Secondary School and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology gathered in small groups at the Wetland Mesocosm Compound to listen to George Mason University undergraduates talk about their environmental research.

In one group, middle school students were learning about the difference between having a wide variety of plants in a wetland versus having just one type of plant. In another, they learned about soil and deposits. Questions were asked and answered. The teachers looked on with excitement.

“I just hope they take away a better understanding and appreciation of the wetlands,” says Patricia Driscoll, a seventh grade life sciences teacher at Lake Braddock in Burke, Va. Driscoll was excited when she learned about the opportunity because it blended well with the students’ classroom learning.

Korol and classmate Danielle detail their research. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Korol and younger students listen as undergraduate Danielle Rigley explains her research. Photo by Evan Cantwell

The event was a culmination of work done in Associate Professor Changwoo Ahn’s Ecological Sustainability course. The course was designated by Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship Creative Activities and Research (OSCAR) as a Research and Scholarship intensive course and by the Office of Sustainability as a Green Leaf course. It was designed so that students gain hands-on learning experience.

“My intention is really to maximize the use of this facility for students and allow them to have this amazing outdoor experience,” says Ahn.

Undergraduates were not only executing and completing a research project — including fieldwork and paper — but they were then expected to present their findings to an outside audience.

“What better audience than students?” says Bethany Usher, director of the Students as Scholars program within OSCAR. Usher’s daughter, a student at Lake Braddock, attended the presentation.

Danielle Rigley, an environmental science and policy major at Mason, says she felt the course was good preparation for graduate school. “There was a lot of interpretation of graphs and data, and we had to do a lot of writing and summarizing, which will really help in the transition of moving from undergraduate to graduate school.”

Environmental science and policy professor Changwoo Ahn talks with the visiting students. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Environmental science and policy professor Changwoo Ahn talks with the visiting students. Photo by Evan Cantwell

After presenting to a few groups of middle school students, Rigley admits it was a little intimidating. “This is my first time presenting to younger people, and it was a bit awkward at first,” adding that she felt it was a valuable experience to have.

For Julia Suarez, a student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., the experience helped bring a real-world feel to her studies. “It’s interesting to see specific projects,” she says, adding that though she’s still torn on what her career path might be, she is definitely interested in ecology and wetlands research.

A mentor and a teacher as much as a researcher, Ahn is committed to bringing scientific experiences to students. He participates in Mason’s Undergraduate Research Scholars Program and has been a mentor for Project SEED at the American Chemical Society.

Through these mentorships and internships he provides voluntarily at the wetlands lab, he is able to bring high school students to Mason to work directly with wetlands research projects and give them exposure to the subject matter.

Write to Robin Herron at rherron@gmu.edu

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