The Maine STEM Education Research Center’s initiative to explore how involving students in coastal research projects can help them improve data literacy and career competence, as well as inform local policy and planning, received an award of 1.35 million dollars from the National Science Foundation.

The RiSE Center at the University of Maine supports middle and high school students in real-world research projects, including coastal monitoring and tracking changes in local ocean water properties, and participating in the design and construction of sensors used to collect this data. Students will be able to see the impact of their work as the data they collect will be used to shape policy decisions and community planning. The four-year project is expected to affect at least 2,500 students from economically disadvantaged Maine rural communities, many of whom will be the first of their families to enter college.

“The ocean is central to life on our planet, and many of the challenges facing society are related to the ocean, whether they are related to climate change, fisheries, ocean health or coastal development,” said Sarah Lindsay, chief project researcher, associate professor of marine science and assistant director of the RiSE Center. This project is exciting because it gives teachers and students the opportunity to focus their learning through the prism of their “backyard ocean” and gain skills in observation, engineering, data and communication as they explore how the ocean is changing and what it means for their communities ”.

Initially, the RiSE Center will collaborate with Belfast High School and other schools at RDU 71. In the final half of the project, other coastal areas and their communities will be part of the project.

Twenty teachers from several school districts will also be trained as part of the program as guides to teach their colleagues and prospective students to use this model to build stronger connections between communities and their schools.

The program will also introduce students to local career opportunities where STEM research skills and knowledge are required. A group of business and nonprofit partners will be involved in mentoring, monitoring vacancies and providing internships to students as part of the program. Partners will develop lessons on marine science and data that students collect for use in a variety of courses, from science and mathematics to social studies and statistics, in joint summer institutes and classes.

Through the programs, UMaine researchers will create a model for teachers to drive this approach to student research. They will review surveys collected from participating students to see how elements of the project, such as community relevance, emphasis on marine sciences and participation in real-world research, affect students ’learning, interaction and attitudes towards STEM and STEM careers. Surveys will be divided by gender and, where possible, racial and ethnic groups to better understand how to make STEM education more inclusive for diverse and underrepresented groups.

“This project gives students and their schools the opportunity to contribute to their communities, while providing them with a true collaborative research experience. It also provides an opportunity for interested community members to enrich the educational experience and career knowledge of local students, ”said Susan McKay, Principal Investigator, Director of the RiSE Center and Professor of Physics.

Contact: Sam Shipani, samantha.schipani@maine.edu