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Research Project: SkIO - SSU Collaboration

Coastal environments in the southeastern U.S. are expected to undergo unprecedented population growth in the next 20 years. Accompanying this human expansion will be significant increases in land use and the potential for dramatic effects upon resources and environmental quality. To be prepared to handle these issues, our educational systems need to provide the technology, methodology, and information required to assess, predict, and improve marine resources and coastal environmental quality.

African Americans and other ethnic groups remain significantly underrepresented in marine and environmental sciences. A salient reason is that predominantly undergraduate educational schools, especially HBCU's, simply do not have the resources or justification to develop and maintain extensive modern research facilities. Thus their students, while receiving fine classroom instruction, do not have the exposure to and training in sophisticated research environments. Those who do, generally receive it during summer research experiences outside the state or region. Without such exposure, students will be less competitive than those who have received formal training in research.

In recognition of this disparity and using NSF support, Savannah State University (SSU), an HBCU, and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO) have forged a collaboration which includes diversification of existing undergraduate courses at SSU by inclusion of teaching and research modules by SkIO faculty; formal detailed training in research via research assistantships at SkIO for qualified SSU undergraduate interns; reciprocal faculty exchange opportunities; and collaborative curriculum development. Educational programs at SSU benefit from access to SkIO's research facilities, and SkIO benefits from developing formal ties to degree-granting educational institutions.

In recognition of the growth and success of undergraduate degree programs in marine studies because of this collaboration, the University System of Georgia (USG) approved a new M.S. degree program in Marine Science at SSU. The USG provided new faculty lines and facilities to implement this new program and enhance the existing undergraduate program. However, these resources will take several years to implement. Two five year NSF projects (2009-2014) permit SSU and SkIO to maintain their momentum in recruiting underrepresented students into marine sciences while the state supported resources are brought on-line, and while funds for other programmatic components are sought via traditional research awards. They provide experience for faculty at both institutions in initiating a M.S. program, and further provide the opportunity to document for the USG that the collaboration is appropriate and successful. The organization of a competitive framework for research training, and the collaboration between SSU and SkIO faculty in teaching, research, and curriculum development, serves as a model for other institutions as an important and sustainable mechanism to increase the number of underrepresented scientists in the field of marine sciences.


Project: NSF GK-12 Program

The GK-12 “Building Ocean Literacy Program” will engage graduate fellows from the Master of Science in Marine Sciences (MSMS) Program at Savannah State University (SSU) in science classes of neighboring schools.  SSU is a historically black university (HBCU) located on the Georgia coast.  The SSU MSMS Program is a collaborative program with the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO) whose faculty are active participants in the project.  Graduate fellows receive instruction in science education and pedagogy through participation in a GK-12 training program and a weekly seminar course.  Fellows and faculty are paired with master science teachers at several Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools including: Thunderbolt Elementary Marine Science Academy, Charles Ellis Montessori Academy, Sol C. Johnson High School, and the Oatland Island Wildlife Center.  The fellows help their teacher partners implement select hands-on instructional activities from the NOAA Ocean Explorer Curriculum, Deep Earth Academy, NSF COSEE-SE, Marine Activities and Resource Education (MARE), and the Southeast Phytoplankton Monitoring Network, all of which supplement Georgia Performance Standards.  In addition, they work with their faculty advisors and teacher partners to develop curricular modules specific to their thesis research and the local ecosystem following models set forth by past faculty-student-teacher projects at SSU and SkIO.

Teachers, graduate fellows, faculty mentors, and K-12 classes participate in monitoring of local estuaries and marshes, including monitoring of water quality and sediment properties, as well as phytoplankton, fish, and benthic communities.  Estuarine ecosystems are highly susceptible to variable climatic conditions (drought, flood, and storm events) and human impacts (dredging, trawling, and input of excess nutrients and contaminants).  The team monitors estuarine conditions and carries out research projects to enhance our understanding of the response of local estuarine ecosystems to these climatic and human influences.  Teachers participate in summer research mentored by SSU and SkIO faculty advisors, in an Ocean Literacy workshop, and are provided travel funds for conferences.

This project is unique in several respects.  (a) SSU is an HBCU that sends young scientists to assist in local schools with large minority populations.  (b) The faculty mentors working with SSU GK-12 fellows and teachers include active research faculty from an internationally recognized oceanographic research institute (SkIO).  (c) Program impact is broadened beyond the traditional classroom walls by inclusion of the Oatland Island Wildlife Center as a GK-12 fellow site. This center provides science instruction to the entire school district and beyond.


Project: NSF OEDG Program

The geosciences have the lowest diversity of any of the STEM areas with a persistent acute under-representation by African-Americans. Many obstacles that hinder efforts to increase the engagement of African-Americans in the geosciences have been identified and include the lack of exposure and relevance of geosciences to the lives of school-age and undergraduate African-Americans. The broad goal of this project is to address these issues and thereby increase the diversity of those engaged in geosciences in a coastal Georgia city. To achieve this ambitious goal we are leveraging the successful partnerships between Savannah State University (SSU), a historically black university with a strong program in marine sciences; the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO), a geoscience research facility; and several other community institutions to make geoscience relevant to students, to diversify the pathways leading to graduate studies in the geosciences, and to increase the engagement of African-Americans in geoscience careers. In addition, we are providing collaborative research opportunities for SSU engineering students participating in the Peach State LSAMP (PSLSAMP) program.

Four primary project components facilitate these objectives: (1) developing coastal research teams that serve to create a coherent, relevant, and highly engaging framework for all project activities and participants; (2) enhancing student engagement and recruitment through hands-on research internships and immersion experiences; (3) instituting specific course curricula that enhance practical professional science skills and competence in relevant coastal issues; and finally (4) creating an integrated community building outreach program that engages SSU and SkIO with the local school system, natural resources and commercial communities.
These activities address and were guided by the primary recommendations of the joint NSF/AAAS diversity panel and meet the main objectives identified in the report formulated by the Directorate for Geosciences: increasing research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented groups; enhancing infrastructure for institutions that serve minority populations; and forming collaborations between research institutions and minority-serving institutions.  A strong commitment and history of collaboration at the institutional level will insure long-term sustainability of the programs, and the engagement of an experienced independent consultant insures effective and useful program evaluation.

Few studies have been conducted in Georgia that provides specific information relevant to local and regional environmental and development policy. Therefore, it is essential to establish a database of appropriate water quality and biological indicators, so that deterioration of estuarine systems can be detected in sufficient time for mitigating actions to be taken.  Since Georgia’s coastal water quality is relatively high but will likely be subjected to increased burdens associated with rapid industrial use and population growth, it is imperative that effective and robust monitoring programs focused on determining the status of Georgia estuarine and coastal systems be developed, tested, and put in place now, prior to future potential deterioration. The adoption of a coherent and relevant research-based theme focused on estuarine ecosystem health provides a critical regional research resource, in addition to meeting the primary goals of community engagement and increasing the diversity of geoscientists.

This project, by leveraging and broadly engaging the expertise and resources of a coastal community, will create a model transcending the traditional boundaries of the education, research, management, and commercial community. This will therefore serve as a transformative approach not only for increasing diversity in geoscience areas, but for developing new synergistic collaborations required of coastal communities facing significant pressures to adapt to and sustain themselves.

For further information, please contact:
Dr. Marc Frischer (912) 598-2308

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