COLLEGE STATION – The general public and scientists are finding common ground at hundreds of biological field research stations across the nation, according to a Texas A&M University and Colorado State University study.
In addition to offering logistical and research support to scientists doing field work, biological field stations provide informal science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, learning opportunities to the general public, said Dr. Rhonda Struminger, assistant professor of the practice at Texas A&M in College Station.
Struminger; Rachel Short, doctoral candidate; and Dr. Michelle Lawing, assistant professor, all in the ecosystem science and management department at Texas A&M in College Station, published a paper outlining the results of a study in the journal BioScience with collaborator Dr. Jill Zarestky at Colorado State University. The paper can be found at https://tinyurl.com/publicSTEMlearning.
From banding birds at the Selman Living Lab in Oklahoma to making maple syrup at the Raystown Field Station in Pennsylvania to the Science Under the Stars public lectures at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory near Austin, around 400 stations throughout the U.S. offer a rich variety of outreach activities.
“With approximately 78 percent and 98 percent of the U.S. population living within 60 and 120 miles of a field station, respectively, these stations have the potential to be key providers of informal STEM education,” Short said.
Struminger said the results of a preliminary survey conducted of U.S. biological field stations indicate they are offering informal learning opportunities to the general public.
“In the study, we propose an informal STEM education framework, which can guide future outreach efforts of field stations and can act as a tool for evaluating current initiatives,” she said.
Additionally, Struminger said, field stations are prioritizing outreach by dedicating personnel and fiscal resources to their outreach programming.
In Ohio, schools take field trips to the Akron University Field Station to learn about habitat restoration, terrestrial ecology and environmental stewardship; in California, bird enthusiasts can take advantage of Palomarin Field Station’s bird banding demonstrations; and in Michigan, Wild Wednesdays at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station attract families to the station to learn about a variety of natural phenomena.
These programs attract local and distant communities depending on what makes the field station’s location special, Struminger said, which demonstrates ways field stations are committed to informal STEM education.
This paper is a product of a funded collaborative grant between researchers at Colorado State University and Texas A&M AgriLife Research. The grant, “Informal science learning at biological field stations” is from the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning program in their Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings.
“We are in the process of collecting more survey data to put our framework to the test,” Lawing said. “So far, we have more than 165 field stations reporting on more than 365 programs that are offered across the U.S.”
These programs, Struminger said, create unique experiences for the public where they can engage with scientists and see science in action. More information and biological field stations can be located on a map found on the team’s website https://fieldstationoutreach.info/.