Participation in the St. Croix Agriculture Fair 2013
The St. Croix Agricultural Fair is one of the major annual highlights for both residents and visitors to the territory. The fair provides an excellent opportunity for VI-EPSCoR to interact with the community and to spread the word about the unique opportunities available through VI-EPSCoR’s projects and funding opportunities. Each year in mid-February, people travel from all across the Caribbean and United States to the Agricultural and Food Fair on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The event provides a unique opportunity to inform and educate the wider community about the initiatives that VI-EPSCoR supports. This year, vendors came from as far as Guyana and as near as St. Thomas, USVI. Given the opportunity to educate fair-goers about the initiatives that VI-EPSCoR has supported, our staff interacted with fair attendees over the three days of activities.
Displayed at the fair were photos of the newly renovated building that now houses the Environmental Analysis laboratory on the UVI St. Thomas campus. Individuals were delighted to find out that our locally-based program had been responsible for so many projects affecting Virgin Islands residents of all age groups. To get adults and children involved, VI-EPSCoR presented to the fair attendees with a reusable shopping bag bearing the VI-EPSCoR logo. During the three days of activities, VI-EPSCoR’s staff distributed newsletters about program’s activities, and engaged participants in a science knowledge competition. This game was created in an effort to broaden the awareness of players about the many ways they might get involved in certain STEM fields. After participants played the marine and environmental science career matching game, they walked away from the VI-EPSCoR table with information about alternate job options for both the younger and the more seasoned worker. Children who participated in the game received a copy of the Lionfish storybook, which was written, illustrated, and produced by high-school students on St. Croix with the funding support of VIEPSCoR.
UVI's Afternoon on the Green
Afternoon on the Green is an annual event held on the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), St. Thomas campus that provides the opportunity for UVI to showcase to the community its academic and research programs. The event is organized by UVI, primarily to raise funds for scholarships for students attending the university. The event allows residents and visitors to sample local cuisine and attend various presentations. VI-EPSCoR used the event as an opportunity to distribute information about our programs, projects, and activities. VI-EPSCoR engaged those attending the function by challenging them to take a science vocabulary survey. The survey assessed the participants’ level of understanding and comfort with a list of terms commonly used in VI-EPSCoR’s science communication. This information will be used to enhance design and delivery of VI-EPSCoR’s outreach material, to ensure greater comprehension and interest by the public in future VI-EPSCoR publications and resources.
The Virgin Islands Network of Environmental Educators (VINE) Adopt-A-School program, with VI-EPSCoR’s sponsorship, was initiated during the 2010-2011 school year to stimulate USVI school students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. This pilot program was offered to two schools on St. Thomas, namely the Wesleyan Academy School and Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School, because of their expressed need for supplemental educational support in the STEM areas. VINE created, coordinated, and managed the Adopt-A-School program because of its members’ demonstrated experience in conducting Environmental Education programming across the USVI. Presentations covering a variety of topics related to STEM were given to students at both schools on a regular basis and diverse educational activities and presentations were facilitated by a wide variety of experts from across the community. At the conclusion of the 2011 program, a trash can painting competition was held within both schools, so that students could demonstrate their knowledge gained from the program, through a fun project.
Building on the experience of the pilot program, VINE once again offered the Adopt-A-School program for the 2012-2013 academic school year, continuing the on-going quest to improve STEM education in the territory. The Ivanna Eudora Kean High School (IEKHS) won the school adoption raffle, which was drawn at the annual TEACH conference in October 2011. TEACH is the acronym for "Together Educating America's Children." As all teachers in the territory are required to attend this conference, VINE chose this venue to advertise the Adopt-A-School program. TEACH attendees were given the opportunity to nominate a school for adoption through a ballot system. Teachers entering their schools into the drawing were very enthusiastic about the program, and nominations were abundant.
The principal, Dr. Sharon Ann McCollum and Mr. Kirk Lewis, an IEKHS science teacher, shared the needs of the school in the STEM area within the context of environmental education and socio-economics. The IEKHS aquaponics farm provided the opportunity for VINE to support an aquatic and environmental science-based program at a local school. Aquaponics combines aquaculture, the growth of aquatic animals in tanks, and hydroponics, the growth of plants in water. VINE also used the school’s aquaponics program as a demonstration project during aquaponics workshops held for students and members of the general public in September 2012. VI-EPSCoR provided funding to assist with the purchase of equipment for the aquaponics project, including a refrigerator/freezer for special chemicals and products, chemical test kits, hatchlings, fish food and plant seeds. VI-EPSCoR funds were also used to support aquaponics training workshops for community members. The IEKHS aquaponics program was featured by the US Department of Agriculture in the Fall Newsletter for the Mid-Atlantic Region as "an excellent example of USDA's Farm to School Program."
Mathematics and Environmental Science Academy (MESA)
The Mathematics and Environmental Science Academy (MESA) program is a five-week program designed to assist, foster, and engage middle- and high school students of the Virgin Islands in Environmental Science Studies, Technology, and Communication activities. The program also provides students with opportunities to engage in high quality science, mathematics, and language arts learning experiences in an effort to reduce the high student drop-out rate. MESA also seeks to encourage male students to enroll in challenging high school classes. To date, there has been a 97% sustained group over a period of six years helping to reinforce the program’s effectiveness and the need for ongoing programs like MESA in the territory.
Students are exposed to various topics that culminate with a research project. During the Summer of 2012, the senior high school and college research teams examined environmental factors that have implications for health concerns throughout the community. Topics included: Impacts of the Invasive Lionfish Species on the Local Fishery, Drainage, Coastal Waters, Environmental Impact on Citizens’ Health, and Alternate Sources of Energy. VI-EPSCoR provided funds for a comprehensive evaluation of the program, equipment and supplies, as well as, stipends for two Research Assistants.
Natures’ Environmental Role Models (NERM)
Natures’ Environmental Role Models (NERM), under the leadership of founder and director, Mr. Jesus Espinosa, recently received a visit from members of VI-EPSCoR’s staff. The program located at Central High School on St. Croix, USVI, gives students exposure to science and environmental related issues, and gives them the opportunity to explore some of the challenges facing the territory and possible solutions that would assist in mitigating these pressing problems. During the visit, students were given new water quality testing kits donated to the program by Gulf of Mexico Foundation, a VI-EPSCoR partner. The donated kits will be used to test for different water quality parameters such as temperature, the presence of bacteria, as well as levels of dissolved chlorine, nitrogen, copper, iron, and oxygen in a water sample. The water quality kits were sent in response to a request made by Mr. Jesus Espinosa during a partnership meeting with VI-EPSCoR and the Gulf of Mexico Foundation in December 2012. Hopefully, the exposure students receive through NERM and other VI-EPSCoR sponsored programs and projects will lead to more students pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. VI-EPSCoR will continue to fund and support endeavors to broaden participation in STEM programs and disciplines.