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Serving Our Communities

From local communities to international efforts, education and geoscience both play important roles in our society. The Serving our Communities initiative celebrates the ways that educators and students are engaging with local, national and global communities and supports expansion of these efforts.

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The blog below showcases the ways in which geoscience educators are serving their communities - local, regional, state, national and international - through their own teaching, research and service, or by engaging their students in these areas. We invite geoscience educators of all types to contribute their stories that the rest of us may be inspired and learn from you. You must be an NAGT member to post.


"Always Ask the Turtle"

Posted: Jul 19 2017 by
Kim Kastens
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Kim Kastens, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
I'm at the Earth Educators' Rendezvous, where Cathy Manduca gave a great plenary talk on the past and future of geoscience education. In looking towards the future, she emphasized the importance of teaching about the Earth in the context of societal issues and thereby serving the larger community. When the floor opened for questions and comments, the very first comment was something along the lines of "scientists need to be careful not to assume they know what the community wants or needs; the community has to have its own voice to express its own desires and needs."

By coincidence, my traveling story book on this trip is Gloria Steinem's new memoir My Life on the Road. She tells a relevant story, writing of her undergraduate years at Smith College (p. 177):

I took a course in geology because I thought it was the easiest way of fulfilling a science requirement. One day the professor took us out into the Connecticut River Valley to show us the 'meander curves' of an age-old river.

I was paying no attention because I had walked up a dirt path and found a big turtle, a giant mud turtle about two feet across, on the muddy embankment of an asphalt road. I was sure it was going to crawl onto the road and be crushed by a car.

So with a lot of difficulty, I picked up the huge snapping turtle and slowly carried it down the road to the river.

Just as I had slipped it into the water and was watching it swim away, my geology professor came up behind me.

"You know," he said quietly, "that turtle has probably spent a month crawling up the dirt path to lay its eggs in the mud on the side of the road—you have just put it back in the river."

I felt terrible. I couldn't believe what I had done, but it was too late.

I took me many more years of organizing to realize that this parable had taught me the first rule of organizing.

Always ask the turtle.

Many thoughts from this vignette have been swirling around in my mind. First, there is the apparently eternal nature of the assumption that geology would be the "easiest way of fulfilling a science requirement." And the near inevitability that a geology professor in the 1950's, even at a women's college, would be male.

But then, I notice that this unnamed and long dead geology professor managed to teach one of the premiere community organizers of her generation "the first rule of organizing."

The learning took effect years after the lesson was set forth. As teachers we sometimes have no idea what seeds we are planting. The lesson was a collaboration between the professor and mother Nature, made possible because the professor took his students out into the real world and then seized the teachable moment even though orthogonal to his planned lesson. Do you suppose he had any idea that reproductive rights would be central to this young woman's career, or was this a coincidence?

Although nature and the professor played essential roles, the final role in the lesson learned came from Gloria herself. It was left as a task for the student to transfer this wisdom from the domain specific context of one gravid turtle to the domain general context of all dealings with other beings.

Always ask the turtle.

Educating about Karst Water Resources through University-City Collaboration

Posted: Jun 13 2017 by
Leslie North
Western Kentucky University
Dr. Leslie North, Western Kentucky University

The Center for Human Geo-Environmental Studies (CHNGES) at Western Kentucky University is highly engaged in its Bowling Green community. Led by Dr. Leslie North and Dr. Jason Polk, CHNGES works with the Bowling Green Public Works department to curate an outreach and educational campaign entitled UnderBGKY. This program works to inform the Bowing Green and surrounding community on the vulnerability of the region's karst groundwater. UnderBGKY operates through a variety of mediums to ensure multidisciplinary education and understanding among learners of all ages. More

TerraElm: Geology Outreach as a Developmental Tool

Posted: Apr 18 2017 by
Peter Anderson
San Jacinto College-North Campus
Peter Anderson, San Jacinto College-North Campus

We focus on presenting to 5th grade students the basics of the geological sciences profession and in a more general sense science; as well as finding a career path that can allow for you to be active and not be confined to a sedentary position. We want to introduce young children to science and show them it can be fun, and that they have more options for the future than they may realize. I try to make the presentations fall on dates where me and a fellow geologist (a female) can present together. The reason for this is to show the young girls that anyone, not just old white men, can be a scientist. Eventually we hope to expand into other nearby regions as students and professionals show us they are willing to help, present, and fund this endeavor. The presentations are approximately 1h in length, to no more than 30 children at a time. More

Trying to Avoid a Water Crisis in Acton, MA

Posted: Apr 11 2017 by
Kim Kastens
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Kim Kastens, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
I honestly can't remember who entrained me into this controversy. But about a year ago, I found myself at a hearing of the Board of Selectmen of my new town, Acton, Massachusetts. This whole New England form of government, with the Board of Selectman, and Town Meeting, and other vestiges left over from the Puritans, was a mystery to me. Gradually, I came to understand the controversy of the moment. A neighboring town, Concord, was seeking to build a new water treatment plant that would allow them to greatly expand their public water withdrawals from Nagog Pond, a small reservoir that straddles the town line of Acton and Littleton. An arcane 1884 law gave Concord, Acton, and Littleton rights to withdraw water from this pond, but only Concord has exercised this right to date. The treatment plant is in Acton and in a residential area, so they needed a special building permit, and thus the series of hearings before the Acton Board of Selectmen. More

Our Students: Earth Advocates

Posted: Apr 11 2017 by
Sarah Fortner
Wittenberg University
Sarah Fortner, Wittenberg University

In class, my students work with community experts to explore soil and water quality. They analyze the impacts of human activities on the surface of the earth. This includes exploring soil nutrients and contaminants like lead and analyzing stream chemistry. Our watershed is one of the top 10 most nutrient polluted of the 800 sub-watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin. Like Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico, C.J. Brown, regularly becomes choked with algae. Two of the last five summers, conditions turned toxic. This shut down swimming at the beach. This hurt our local economy and took away the only free place to swim. This is also heartbreaking. More

It Pays to be Involved in Your Community

Posted: Apr 11 2017 by
Michael Phillips
Illinois Valley Community College
Michael Phillips, Illinois Valley Community College

I have had the opportunity to tour a flood disaster area with the governor and local officials, hang out on the floor of the state House and Senate during session, and have dinner (twice) with a U.S. Senator. Each of these opportunities has allowed me to share the perspective of a geoscientist with the people who make decisions on our behalf and speak to specific bills and policies that impact education and the geosciences. These opportunities (and more) are the fruit of being active in my local community and getting to know the local leaders when I wasn't asking for anything but rather offering my assistance in areas well beyond geology. More

Applying a diverse range of perspectives to the issues

Posted: Apr 11 2017 by
Sue Ebanks
Savannah State University
Sue C. Ebanks, Savannah State University
Students engaged in geoscience-related service learning at Savannah State welcome the opportunity to put what they have learned in their respective disciplines to action for the resolution of coastal hazards issues. The wide range of issues includes community communications for the sake of safety, awareness, and recovery in the event of a disaster (natural or anthropogenic). It also includes educating and taking action to improve the condition of (fresh) food deserts in neighboring areas. By including students that are trained in a range of disciplines (homeland security and emergency management, engineering, transportation, mass communications, education, environmental sciences, etc.), all at one discussion table, we are able to address issues in coastal hazards from scientific, social, economic, and numerous other angles.

A Durable Collaborative Partnership with Our Community's Geoscience Employers

Posted: Apr 11 2017 by
Jeff Ryan
University of South Florida
Jeffrey Ryan, University of South Florida
This year marks the 20th "anniversary" for a unique and mutually fruitful partnership between the environmental employer community in SW Florida and the (now) School of Geosciences at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. I put "anniversary" in quotes because cooperation between the USF Geology faculty and local employers was certainly occurring before this year. What happened in 1997 was the formal establishment of the USF Geology Alumni Society, which has since become both mechanism for regular contact between Geoscience faculty and local employers, some (not all!) of whom are USF Geology alumni; and an active partner to our Geology program, in the delivery of key pieces of both our graduate and undergraduate degree curricula. More

Geoscience policy and civic engagement through undergraduate service-learning

Posted: Apr 6 2017 by
David Szymanski
Bentley University
Dave Szymanski, Bentley University
Strengthening the role of the geosciences in policy development is challenging work. It's often time consuming, resource sapping, and generally frustrating for earth scientists to advocate for science policy, especially at the federal level. And even then, we can't do it alone. We need our undergraduates - majors and nonmajors alike - to see the value of science in public decision making. Working with professional geoscience organizations as community partners in service-learning, students can learn to communicate the critical need for geoscience in policymaking. In the process, students become de facto advocates for data-driven policy and not just advocates for science funding, which can often be the simplistic message heard by nonscientists. More

Addressing Mineral Resource Needs for Society

Posted: Mar 31 2017 by
Dave Mogk
Montana State University-Bozeman
David Mogk, Montana State University-Bozeman

Mining in America invokes passions pro and con. An embedded research project in a Mineralogy course provides students with first-hand experience to engage exploration, development and remediation of mineral resource deposits as a possible career path, and hosting mineral companies get access to state-of-the-art research results that can be used to inform their project operations. This instructional activity addresses national needs to develop mineral resources to sustain our economic health and national security, and to develop the workforce needed to support the mineral industries from discovery to environmental remediation.



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