Oct. 22, 2018


National Academies’ Gulf Research Program Awards $3.2 Million to Education Projects to Advance Scientific and Environmental Literacy in Coastal Regions

WASHINGTON – The Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine today announced awards for nine new grant projects totaling $3.2 million. All nine projects involve efforts aimed at advancing the scientific and environmental literacy of children and youth living in coastal regions.

Communities in U.S. coastal regions face a variety of unique social and environmental challenges likely to be exacerbated in the future by climate change and sea-level rise, increased storm intensities, and transitioning economies, among other factors. To have the capacity to address these challenges effectively, it will be important for the next generation of citizens, scientists, engineers, and decision-makers in these regions to understand the challenges and opportunities for addressing them in the context of their local communities.

“For the first time, the Gulf Research Program is excited to be awarding grants focused on building the scientific capacity of the next generation,” said Karena Ruggiero, program officer for the GRP’s capacity building initiative. “This suite of projects is going to provide a variety of innovative learning opportunities for children and youth in coastal states including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, and Texas on a broad range of topics pertaining to community resilience and environmental health.”

The nine projects, listed in alphabetical order by project title, are:

Building Sea-Level Rise and Flood Resilience Capacity in the Northern Gulf Through Students and Teachers
Award Amount: $391,537
Project Director: Renee Collini (Mississippi State University)
Project Team Affiliation: Mississippi State University in cooperation with Alabama School of Math and Science, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Northern Gulf of Mexico Sentinel Site Cooperative, Smart Home America, and University of South Alabama
Overview: Coastal flooding and sea-level rise coupled with above-average regional socioeconomic vulnerability and rapid development is exacerbating hazard impacts in the northern Gulf of Mexico. In order to actively develop and execute resilience actions, it is imperative for future natural resource managers, elected officials, and voters to understand potential risks to their communities. This project aims to help create an informed and prepared coastal citizenry possessing the understanding and skills necessary to reduce coastal vulnerability to flooding and sea-level rise. Collaborating with area educators in coastal Alabama and Mississippi, the project will develop and refine an engaging, hands-on curriculum for 9-12th grade students pertaining to flooding and sea-level rise resilience and conduct outreach to support its use in classrooms and nontraditional educational settings throughout the region.

Conceptualizing Human Alteration and Natural Growth in Estuaries and Savannas (CHΔNGES)
Award Amount: $100,000
Project Director: Ayesha Gray (Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve)
Project Team Affiliation: Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
Overview: The Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Mississippi is home to several unique ecosystems that experience ongoing challenges from natural and human-caused disruptions. Maintaining and restoring the health of these ecosystems requires constant application of management, monitoring, and restoration efforts. This project plans to use these unique habitats and the current management, monitoring, and restoration practices employed on them as a platform to educate students about ecological processes and ecosystem function. To advance their scientific and environmental literacy, local 9-12th grade students from the surrounding area will be provided with a series of immersive educational experiences in the estuary and pine savanna involving critical thinking exercises and hands-on engagement with the work being done by natural resources managers at the reserve.

Environmental Health Youth Council Promoting Science-Based Learning and Leadership for
Underserved Houston-area Youth
Award Amount: $443,906
Project Director: Elena Craft (Environmental Defense Fund)
Project Team Affiliation: Environmental Defense Fund in cooperation with City of Houston Health Department, Galena Park High School, John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science, Pasadena Memorial High School, and Raul Yzaguirre School for Success Charter School
Overview: As a result of extensive industrial activity, the Houston area suffers from chronic air quality issues and associated health impacts. As global warming continues, more frequent and extreme rainfall events are expected to result in massive flooding and increased pollution, such as that resulting from Hurricane Harvey. The Houston area communities most at-risk from air pollution and climate change impacts are predominantly low-income, underserved communities along the Houston Ship Channel. This project aims to prepare 9-12th grade youth in these communities to become future leaders on climate and air pollution issues and more knowledgeable about how to help improve the health and prosperity of their communities. High school students will be organized into yearlong Environmental Health Youth Councils and provided with leadership training and science-based educational experiences pertaining to resiliency planning and improving environmental conditions. In addition, a complementary museum exhibit will be developed to reach broader audiences.

Magnolia Bayou: A Catalyst for Change in Downtown Bay St. Louis, Mississippi  
Award Amount: $98,080
Project Director: David Perkes (Mississippi State University Gulf Coast Community Design Studio)
Project Team Affiliation: Mississippi State University Gulf Coast Community Design Studio in cooperation with Bay St. Louis Community Arts Center and unabridged Architecture
Overview: Magnolia Bayou, an important coastal stream flowing into the Bay of St. Louis, is designated as a highly impaired waterway in Mississippi. The Magnolia Bayou Watershed is an area that includes much of downtown Bay St. Louis, a growing community experiencing an influx of new development that is placing increased pressure on Magnolia Bayou. A conservation plan for the Magnolia Bayou Watershed identified community outreach and engagement as the most important strategy for dealing with these increasing pressures and protecting the watershed. This project aims to engage 9-12th grade students in exploring policies and actions the community can use to address threats to the Magnolia Bayou Watershed while also learning about professions related to environmental stewardship and mechanisms that can be used to influence change. Through the project, students will participate in a series of workshops and field experiences to learn about water quality issues impacting the watershed and interact with decision-makers and conservation professionals working to protect the watershed.

Okefenokee - Understanding Real-world Relevance through Suwannee Watershed Assessment and Monitoring Project (OUR2 SWAMP)
Award Amount: $763,897
Project Director: Lacey Huffling (Georgia Southern University)
Project Team Affiliation: Georgia Southern University
Overview: While local watersheds and the larger water bodies they ultimately flow into can seem geographically distant and disconnected from one another, activities occurring in the local watersheds and the overall ecosystem health of these watersheds have significant downstream impacts on the ecological health of those larger water bodies. This is particularly true of the Gulf of Mexico, which receives water from rivers draining from 31 states. This project aims to increase 6-12th grade students’ understanding of these causal relationships focused around the Okefenokee Swamp in southeastern Georgia and its impact on the Gulf of Mexico. The project will train and provide ongoing support for teachers to integrate local ecosystem monitoring, through Adopt-A-Stream and other citizen science projects, with problem-based learning and fieldwork to provide first-hand demonstrations for students of the connection between their local watershed and the Gulf of Mexico. Community demographics in the region will also result in increased participation of underrepresented and underserved populations in citizen science.

Project Resilience: Empowering Gulf Coast Youth to Thrive in Transformative Communities
Award Amount: $293,506
Project Director: Becca Hatheway (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research [UCAR])
Project Team Affiliation: UCAR in cooperation with South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center and Trainer Evaluation
Overview: Coastal communities in Louisiana, as elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, are being impacted by rising sea levels, changes in storm intensity, and coastal erosion. These impacts are expected to increase over time as global warming increases and land subsidence continues. Most students in the region understand they are living in one of the fastest changing areas on the planet but understanding about why the changes are occurring and what can be done in response is less widespread. This project aims to educate 9-12th grade coastal Louisiana students on the science behind the challenges coastal communities are facing and empower them to use that science to develop community resilience plans addressing the challenges. The project team will develop an environmental science curriculum focused on the Gulf Coast and a toolkit that students can use to guide them through a resilience planning process. A select number of the resilience plans developed will be chosen to receive support for implementation and the educational resources developed will be made available to educators throughout the Gulf Coast region.

Seeding Wetland Restoration and Conservation in Mississippi High Schools
Award Amount: $399,930
Project Director: Eric Sparks (Mississippi State University; Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant)
Project Team Affiliation: Mississippi State University in cooperation with Dauphin Island Sea Lab and University of Southern Mississippi
Overview: While coastal degradation and poor water quality are chronic issues affecting the lives of those living across coastal Mississippi, many students in the region often have a perceived disconnect between themselves and the environment. Some potential reasons for this disconnect include limited exposure to natural landscapes, despite living in nearby proximity to them, and inadequate understanding of people’s reliance on natural systems. This project aims to help address this disconnect by providing 10-12th grade students with hands-on educational experiences that promote stewardship of natural ecosystems and develop understanding of how the health of natural environments contributes to coastal resilience. The project will develop and implement a paired wetland nursery and education program for high schools in coastal Mississippi that will involve students learning about coastal wetlands, growing wetland plants in nurseries, planting their nursery-grown plants on coastal restoration projects, and conducting related student-designed research projects.

WeatherBlur: Engaging Students in Mississippi, Alabama, and Maine through Citizen Science and Inquiry-Driven Project-Based Learning
Award Amount: $438,140
Project Director: Christine Bevc (RTI International)
Project Team Affiliation: RTI International in cooperation with Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance
Overview: Coastal communities around the country face environmental challenges stemming from natural and human-caused disasters that affect community health. Developing understanding about natural systems and the interdependence of people and the natural environment is critical to helping prepare students to address these challenges in the future. This project aims to build scientific and environmental literacy among underserved 4-6th grade students in coastal Alabama, Maine, and Mississippi through co-created citizen-science and action projects pertaining to environmental health. The effort will be based around an existing online platform, WeatherBlur, which connects students and classroom educators with science experts to collaborate on developing project research questions, collecting field data, sharing results, and discussing actions students can take in their local communities to address the challenges their projects were focused upon.

Youth-Led Community-based Citizen Science Projects in the Gulf Region
Award Amount: $294,913
Project Director: Ellen (Stevie) Lewis (Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science [Public Lab])
Project Team Affiliation: Public Lab
Overview: U.S. Gulf Coast communities face a convergence of environmental concerns with distinct social, cultural, economic, political, and regulatory factors that create complex situations many of these communities find themselves challenged to address. For this reason, the Gulf region is both a fitting and important place to foster youth to become civically-minded, scientifically literate members of society engaged in building more resilient communities. This project aims to build the capacity of Gulf region youth to address environmental issues affecting their communities by engaging them in hands-on science learning and practice relevant to their lived experience. The project will pilot a community citizen science learning model that positions young people as knowledge producers rather than knowledge consumers. With teacher support, 12-18 year-old youth will lead research projects through all research stages on local environmental topics they have identified as important. Materials developed and refined through the pilot effort will be made available for use by other educators throughout the region.

All projects were selected after an external peer-review process. These awards are part of the portfolio of Gulf Research Program grant opportunities outlined at www.nas.edu/gulf/grants.   

The National Academies' Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements with the companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It seeks to enhance offshore energy system safety and protect human health and the environment by catalyzing advances in science, practice, and capacity to generate long-term benefits for the Gulf of Mexico region and the nation. The program has $500 million for use over 30 years to fund grants, fellowships, and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and training, and monitoring and synthesis. Visit www.national-academies.org/gulf to learn more.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit www.national-academies.org.

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