UMaine offers study to students underrepresented in STEM fields

A new three-year project at the University of Maine will empower female and minority high school students, their teachers and communities to create innovative solutions to the environmental problems related to stormwater management.

The more than $735,000 award from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) is part of the portfolio of projects of Maine EPSCoR at UMaine. It is expected to involve approximately 180 Maine high school students and 45 teachers in hands-on projects led by science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals in areas such as engineering design, science, computer modeling and information technology. Participants in this project will work together to monitor and map water quality around several Maine communities.

The goal of UMaine’s project, which will begin in January 2014, is to attract students who are often underrepresented in the engineering field to STEM education by investigating innovative and cost-effective solutions to local stormwater problems. More information about how to get involved will be available soon at www.umaine.edu/epscor/.

Bringing together a diverse community of middle and high school students and teachers, water authorities, environmental protection groups and tribal communities with university scientists and students, this project has the potential to make significant improvements in water quality across the state while engaging participants in STEM education. This project will also produce new watershed maps and management plans for several streams that will lead to improved water quality.

“Using the tools of engineering technology, real-time data management and web-based digital mapping, students will be directly involved in every project stage – from design of water-quality sensing units to implementation of community outreach programs about stormwater pollution issues,” said Mohamad Musavi, UMaine associate dean of the College of Engineering and professor of electrical and computer engineering, who is also the principal investigator of the project.

Due to the limited scope of this pilot project, the initial focus will be on students from four partner schools –  Bangor, Portland, Lewiston and Edward Little High Schools – plus students from Maine’s Native American communities. As space allows, students from additional high schools in the targeted Maine water district areas (Lower Penobscot, Portland and Lake Auburn Watershed) will be added to the project.

Project activities will begin in the summer of 2014 with a five-day Stormwater Institute at UMaine to introduce the students and their teachers to the issues, science and engineering related to managing stormwater runoff. In the long term, the research aims to benefit society by offering a viable and cost-effective solution to the problem of stormwater through a project that has been designed to be replicated, scaled and used by other educators nationwide.

NSF announced the UMaine award as one of five projects intended to broaden STEM participation through regional improvements to education and human resources infrastructure. Read the NSF news release about other projects at the University of New Hampshire, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nevada System of Higher Education and University of Kentucky Research Foundation.

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