With summer wrapping up and a new school year upon us, we decided it was a good time to reflect on outreach done by researchers at the Center for Watershed Sciences (CWS) at UC Davis. Some of the outreach was organized by the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee while others took initiative and pursued their own outreach. CWS researchers understand the great value of outreach to inspire new generations of scientists, and how it can be used as a tool to expand access to outdoor sciences across diverse communities. We hope you enjoy reading about our efforts and please reach out or comment below if you have opportunities for engagement! We are always looking for new ways to engage the public!
Bringing Suisun Marsh to a Classroom at Armijo High School
By: Caroline Newell, Brian Williamshen, Lynette Williams, Mona Broukhim, Alice Tung, Dylan Stompe, Kyle Phillips, Sarah Yarnell
On June 2nd and June 3rd 2022, the CWS DEI Committee had the pleasure of sending CWS researchers to Armijo High School in Fairfield CA to teach some city kids about the wonders of Suisun Marsh. The school is just a stone’s throw away from the largest marsh in the state. Suisun Marsh is a gemstone in the Pacific Flyway providing high quality habitat for numerous birds, fishes, mammals, and herps. Living right next to Suisun Marsh, many members of Solano County have never visited the ecosystem, much less studied its importance for wildlife. Motivated by a desire to connect communities with their local ecology, our DEI team targeted high schoolers with the goal of increasing natural literacy, and inspiring a few to spend more time in local wild sanctuaries.
The DEI committee teamed up with, Mr. Joash Hicks, an Environmental Science teacher for juniors and seniors at Armijo High School. With the help of Suisun Marsh researchers, we put on two days of learning where students interacted with a diverse array of aquatic life found in Suisun Marsh. Students were also taught about water quality and plants. Students tested water quality in the marsh and their drinking water to look for potentially dangerous chemicals (such as too much mercury or lead) and also common water quality metrics of importance to the ecosystem and wildlife. Students also learned tips and tricks for fishing and bird watching in the marsh – skills we hope they continue to develop on their own!
During the lunch period both days, students interacted with specimens loaned out by the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology at UC Davis. The students got to observe animals from around the area – but closer up than they ever had before. They were even able to touch some of the animals – furs of an American beaver, a mountain lion, and feathers from local birds.
Using money generously donated by the CWS executive committee, the DEI committee bought items for the students to use when going out into the marsh on their own time – neck gaiters, small dry bags, National Geographic field guides, eye lenses, headlamps, field notebooks, and – best of all – one fishing rod and reel per class! Overall it was a very meaningful two days for students and researchers alike. We hope the students continue to explore the marsh and everything that makes it spectacular. We also hope to continue this sort of outreach, so if you know of any teachers or organizations interested in engaging Suisun Marsh researchers for outreach, please contact Caroline Newell at firstname.lastname@example.org
Community outreach at Chiloquin High School in Chiloquin, Oregon
By: Rachelle Tallman
During the 2021-2022 school year, I had the amazing opportunity to work with students from Chiloquin Jr/ Sr High School in Chiloquin, Oregon. I was thrilled to work with students in Mr. Aaron Martin’s high school class and Mrs. Emma Tibay’s middle school class. I traveled to the school on three separate occasions for some fun science talks. In the first session with the middle school students, we discussed how community gardening increases access to nutritious foods, while the high school students learned salmon anatomy through dissections. The second session focused on getting all the students outside and practicing scientific data collection. Each student chose their own juvenile Chinook salmon, which they scanned for an individual tag number. Students then recorded their name and the fish’s individual tag number into a computer database for future reference. After recording their data, the students released their fish into the nearby Williamson River, where underwater receivers recorded fish as they passed by. To add further excitement to the activity, we made it into a competition of whose fish would reach the mouth of the river first. This exercise demonstrated the importance of high-quality data recording; incorrect data could result in erroneously losing the competition. During the final outreach session, I announced the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners of the competition and had all participating students work together for a round of science trivia. I hope to continue these outreach sessions for the upcoming year with brand new activities to engage the student’s curiosity and interests in science.
Wings Landing Education Program with Crystal Middle School
By Elsie Platzer
The Wings Landing Education Program, funded and implemented by Natural Resources Group, Inc. as part of the Wings Landing Tidal Habitat Restoration Project, is a summer day camp that brings four days of fun science activities to Suisun City middle schoolers. I was invited to join the group from Crystal Middle School as a “scientist in residence” of sorts, following a curriculum co-designed by school science teachers and NRG’s conservation biologists Abby Dziegel and Ryan Lopez. We spent our field days exploring Peytonia Ecological Reserve on the shorelines of Suisun Marsh, where I conduct my graduate student research.
The education program served as an early introduction to the scientific method and study design. Students made hypotheses about which types of bait different fishes might prefer in crawdad traps, or which foods might entice the most mammals to visit their “track plates” (cardboard sheets covered in flour). They took pictures and made meticulous observations in their nature journals. Then, when we returned the following day, they evaluated their hypotheses and came up with advice for future groups that might conduct the same experiments.
For my role, I talked about my own work in the marsh, my background, and my path towards becoming a researcher, emphasizing how field scientists don’t require immense resources or flashy technology to capture good data. Students watched me demonstrate sample collection with a simple zooplankton tow and Nalgene, and mirrored these methods by collecting their own water grabs to examine under microscopes back in the classroom.
Though many students who attend Crystal Middle School live within walking distance of the marsh, few had visited the Peytonia Ecological Reserve before. But even self-proclaimed “indoor kids” were soon cheerfully playing in the mud, pulling the “sausages” off of cattails, or poking at coyote scat with sticks. With the help of a guide from local business Grizzly Waters Kayaking, students paddled—some for the first time in their lives—out to the Wings Landing breach, marveling at river otters, wren nests, and giant mats of floating pondweed. Like true naturalists, they were excited by the diversity of plant and animal life, and eager to come back and explore further.
The Wings Landing Education Program did an excellent job engaging students with the beauty and complexity of Suisun Marsh. I felt privileged to participate alongside Abby, Crystal Middle School educators, and all the kids, who gave me a fresh perspective on the place where I do my work. Here’s to a successful summer!
I grew up in Suisun and was always fascinated with the marshlands and water. Just a quick trip out on the water and you are in another world far from the day to day. Thanks so much for arranging these experiences for both Armijo and Crystal students.