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GLIN==> IL-IN Sea Grant News: Environmental Fair Unveils Student Community Stewardship Projects


April 15, 2008

Source: Robin Goettel (217)333-9448; goettel@uiuc.edu

                Valeri Werpetinski (217) 333-3370; werpetin@uiuc.edu


Environmental Fair Unveils Student Community Stewardship Projects


URBANA - At the Nab the Aquatic Invaders! Community Stewardship Fair on April 23 at the University of Illinois Environmental Horizons, educational projects created by local school children will be on display as part of an innovative U of I course.  This new service-learning course was designed to encourage learning through teaching and to empower university students, youth, and the community to take action.


“Service learning is a form of experiential education in which learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection,” said Valeri Werpetinski, education specialist at the U of I Center for Teaching Excellence. “In this process, students work with others to apply what they are learning to address community problems and, at the same time, reflect on their experiences.”


The course (NRES 285: Community Stewardship through Environmental Education) is centered on the concern of aquatic invasive species, such as Asian carp and zebra mussels, which wreak havoc with lake and river ecosystems. Using a science-based web site Nab the Aquatic Invaders! (www.sgnis.org.kids), university students brought this issue to local 4th, 5th, and 7th grade students at Stratton Elementary School, Thomas Paine Elementary School, Edison Middle School and Campus Middle School for Girls.


“The web site provides a creative way to learn about invasive species,” said Robin Goettel, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant associate director for education. “It has colorful cartoon characters and a crime-fighting theme, but the site is rich with information on how invasive species are transported to local waters, their impacts, and how they can be controlled.”


The U of I students then directed this knowledge towards making a concrete difference. “They met with representatives from libraries, park districts, outdoor clubs, a museum, and a forest preserve district as well as from a local business to learn about their programs to inform the public about invasive species and to talk about potential educational opportunities,” explained Goettel.


Students guided youth in the development of community stewardship projects that address educational needs of these organizations by informing visitors what they can do to help prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species.


“The school children used creative approaches to inform the community about the issues and to inspire responsible environmental decision-making--they incorporated science content into display boards, activity books, a calendar, and they even wrote and performed skits about invasive species,” said Werpetinski.


“Service-learning helps students gain a deeper understanding of academic content, but it also challenges them to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It’s a powerful teaching strategy that can foster personal growth and a sense of civic responsibility in students,” said Werpetinski.  “That’s good for the students, and in this case, it’s good for the environment, too.”


The fair features student-created projects that will be used in education programs offered by community organizations in Champaign and Urbana. It takes place Wednesday, April 23, 5:00-6:45 p.m. in the South Lounge of the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana. This event is open to the public and is part of the annual Environmental Horizons, which is a showcase of environmental activities on campus sponsored by the Environmental Council.


In keeping with the concept of creating partnerships, the course was a collaboration of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, U of I Extension, the Center for Teaching Excellence, and the U of I Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. This project was supported by the Provost’s Initiative on Teaching Advancement and the COSEE Great Lakes Project.




The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program is one of 30 National Sea Grant College Programs. Created by Congress in 1966, Sea Grant combines university, government, business and industry expertise to address coastal and Great Lakes needs. Funding is provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the University of Illinois and Purdue University.




Irene Miles
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant
386 NSRC
1101 W. Peabody Dr.
Urbana, Il 61801
(217) 333-8055
FAX (217) 333-8046