Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG): “I was 19 years old. I never even knew any of this stuff existed. I didn’t know I could be a scientist. I thought that was something way beyond what I could be,” said Susan Daniel, a Buffalo State College researcher who studies invertebrates that live at the bottom of the Great Lakes.
She was talking to students from Ellis Middle School in Elgin, Illinois, who had posed questions for her and a handful of other scientists taking part in a virtual session bringing these two groups together. These students in Holly Yee’s science classes had been studying the Great Lakes and the participating scientists are experts on the subject. They hail from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), universities and the Sea Grant program.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) developed the Scientists to Students (S2S) program to connect students with Great Lakes scientists on board the EPA research ship, the Lake Guardian, via videocasts. While out on the lakes collecting samples, scientists visit classrooms virtually and talk with students about aquatic science, water quality monitoring, careers, and life on a ship. Since the program’s inception, over 25 scientists, 33 teachers, and more than 3400 students throughout the Great Lakes have participated.
This spring, due to COVID-19, as with most events, S2S videocasts needed to be rethought, if the program happened at all. Working with several teachers, IISG’s Kristin TePas and Allison Neubauer refashioned the get-togethers with everyone in their homes, both scientists and students alike.
“This has resulted in a fair amount of trial and error to find processes and platforms that work well,” said Neubauer, IISG Great Lakes outreach associate. “As it turns out, I think this has been beneficial in encouraging participation from different types of learners, ranging from those who feel comfortable unmuting themselves and directly asking the scientists questions to those who would prefer to type in a chat box.”
The interactions with scientists and the Elgin students included prerecorded videos created when convenient—introductory videos from scientists describing their work, students posing questions, and scientists’ recorded answers. Many of the questions focused on Great Lakes conditions and issues, but some were more personal in nature, such as what is your favorite thing about being a scientist?
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Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)