Youth stewardship program receives $25K national award

Initiative has helped thousands of youth become ‘citizen scientists’ in Northeast Michigan.

Alpena youth monitor invasive zebra mussel populations in Thunder Bay River. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant
Alpena youth monitor invasive zebra mussel populations in Thunder Bay River. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

The Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative network and partnership strives to engage youth - through their learning - in Great Lakes and natural resource stewardship projects that make a difference in their communities. Recently this network was honored with a national $25,000 Environmental-STEM Innovative Education Award for empowering youth through place-based stewardship education projects. The award is given by the North American Association for Environmental Education and UL Innovation.

The NEMIGLSI supports youth in accomplishing local stewardship projects, provides support for schools and educators, and facilitates school-community partnerships. Place-based stewardship education (PBSE) brings students into closer contact with their communities, empowering youth-led projects that enhance their environment and community. This education strategy allows schools to enrich the learning and lives of their students; and when schools and communities work together, they produce powerful partnerships. This PBSE strategy also fosters Great Lakes literacy learning and environmental science, technology, engineering, and math (E-STEM) opportunities applied by youth in their projects.

Alongside Great Lakes scientists and natural resource professionals, youth are helping to conserve Lake Huron’s biodiversity, map threatened and endangered species habitat, restore native fisheries, monitor vernal pool wetlands, and manage invasive species. Other students monitor water quality, enhance aquatic habitat, and investigate marine debris. E-STEM learning is especially evident when students collaborate with scientists to design research projects investigating environmental issues, use GPS and GIS technology to map biodiversity or water data, engineer underwater robots and contribute to fisheries science, and employ math to track populations of both rare and invasive species.

During the 2015-2016 school year, the NEMIGLSI supported 94 educators in 32 schools across eight northern Lake Huron counties, involving more than 4,100 youth (approximately 20% of the region’s total student population) in stewardship projects. Since 2009, more than 19,000 students have engaged as Great Lakes stewards, E-STEM learners and valued community leaders through the NEMIGLSI.

The initiative is facilitated by Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension, NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan, and other leadership partners. It is one of nine regional network hubs across Michigan sponsored by the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, a statewide network supported by the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, along with the Sea Grant Center for Great Lakes Literacy and NOAA B-WET Great Lakes program.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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