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By Caitlin Jennings, Communications Coordinator, Society for Science & the Public
Susan Vincent, a 2009 Society Fellow, doesn’t take a summer break from teaching the students at the Young Women’s Leadership Institute in New York City. Instead she spends her vacation trudging through knee deep water and mud so thick it is possible to get stuck in. This summer she regularly took several of her students, as well as some boys from a nearby school, to Piermont Marsh to take water samples. The marsh is in poor condition and has been taken over by an opportunistic plant, Phragmites, which now covers 75% of the marsh vegetation. Susan’s group is studying how fast it is invading and what this means for animal life.
“It’s such a marvelous opportunity,” she says of the experience, which exposes her students to a different world. “We involve all of the senses when we go out to the field. When you read about this in a textbook, it’s a rather sterile experience—it’s not so exciting and fun.” She also says it is a great way to boost a student’s confidence. “What I find when I take them out in the field is that they will get out there, they’ll get muddy, they’ll do whatever they need to do and they don’t ever assume that someone else is there to do it for them,” Susan says. This summer, local boys joined her students, and often the girls were more ready to tackle tasks and get dirty (both literally and figuratively), while having to coax the boys to do the same. “They had that confidence that comes from having had to do it themselves.”
Their work has been so successful that, Susan, along with a few students, will be attending the Geological Society of America’s conference this October to present their findings. One student, who will be attending Colby College on a full ride and plans to study environmental science, received additional support from Colby to attend the event as well. “We are all about getting them to the next level of their educational journey,” Susan says; two other rising college freshman joined Susan this summer to conduct additional research, including a student who received a full scholarship to Dartmouth.
Susan says it is gratifying to see her students come in to their own and take an interest in environmental science. Thanks to several partners, including the Society, the program continues to be able to rent canoes, pay for lab time, and cover other costs in order to provide these under-served students with an opportunity to conduct their own research. The $8,500 a year from the Society through her Fellowship has helped significantly, Susan says, “The Society is keeping us running.”
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