STEM Underground

Guest blog by Kurt Moser, Earth Force Senior Program Manager

To dig deep into the topics of sustainability and STEM, as with any significant excavation, we would be wise to first dial 811. Even if you haven’t called “Miss Utility” before, you might recognize the spray-painted street art as indicative of digging about to take place nearby. It is a reminder that much of the infrastructure we depend upon in daily life is invisible to us, hidden underground.

You don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate the value of drinkable water, electricity, communications networks, home heating and cooling, sanitary sewerage, and other modern conveniences, yet much of the infrastructure that makes these amenities possible is hidden, out of sight and out of mind. It is a testimony to the work of engineers that we can be so unaware of the systems that support us.

It’s easy to take these systems for granted and to forget their environmental significance. How many of us understand what it means environmentally when we take a hot shower–using potable water? How many of us know what the American Society of Civil Engineers means when it says our infrastructure earns a grade of D-plus? These questions are at the nexus of STEM and sustainability.

STEM education is where we will develop the next generation of engineers, scientists, and technological problem-solvers – and we will need them; we are still living largely on the infrastructure of the 1950′s, and will soon need infrastructure for the 21st century. But STEM education is also essential for the next generation of policymakers, voters, and citizens; they must be prepared to make the necessary decisions and investments to make goods and services in the 21st century possible and sustainable for generations to come.

In the Promoting Environmental Sustainability and Stewardship through STEM pathway, we explore how STEM and environmental learning support one another by investigating practical application and partnership-building. We’ll find out how Western Kentucky University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration address STEM from the perspective of ecology, with examples of real-world applications. We’ll see how United States Department of Agriculture and 4H use community mapping to provide students with a connection to place and how partnerships in organizations like the DC Environmental Education Consortium bridge STEM, sustainability, and environmental literacy goals. Pathway participants will come away with a clearer understanding of how environmental STEM prepares today’s students for career, college, and citizenship.

 Register for the Next Steps Institute!



Celebrating 20 Years of Collective Impact on the Potomac

As our organization has evolved over the past 20 years, we’ve worked to intentionally build out this idea of Collective Impact. Often, people get the general idea – yeah, let’s come together and make a difference – but what do we really mean when we say Collective Impact?

Definition: Collective Impact
/kelektiv ‘im,pakt/

1. broad cross-sector coordination focused on large-scale social change involving a structured process guided by a backbone organization that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.

At Earth Force, we care deeply about the future of our communities and our democracy, so having a knowledgeable, engaged populace is critical. In our ideal community, organizations are holding up a world where young people are actively engaged today.

Earth Force MAP resized

Earth Force’s contribution is guiding a transformative process that combines the best strategies in service-learning, environmental education and action, and youth civic engagement and leadership (depicted here as the yellow brick road), to guide young people through a process (represented by the speech bubbles) where they engineer strategies to address a wide range of environmental issues in their community. As you can see, young people work with each other, and with adults, to gain practical experiences and confidence in their abilities to be change agents in their communities.

We work to build, foster, and support collective impact in 50 communities across the country. In Wentzville, MO, the City of Wentzville, General Motors, Wentzville Middle School, Holt High School, and Earth Force engaged nearly 550 students last year in working with their community to develop solutions to water quality issues in Peruque Creek.

The City of Wentzville, General Motors, Wentzville Middle School, Holt High School, and Earth Force work together to support students.

In Washington, DC, 120 students from Cesar Chavez Public Charter School – Parkside, the SEED School of DC, and Dunbar High School addressed litter and waste in the Watts Branch stream this year through support from District Department of the Environment, Groundwork Anacostia River DC, Cacapon Institute, and Earth Force.

image (4)

Students addressed litter and waste in the Watts Branch stream.

On September 22, 2014, our work in Collective Impact will be on display at 20 Years: Celebrating a Watershed Moment in Earth Force History, our 20th anniversary party in Washington, DC. We invite you to join us on the Cherry Blossom Riverboat as we share and celebrate improving communities and the amazing work of all our educators, youth, and partners while cruising along the Potomac River.

So many of us are working to make a difference in our communities. Our goal is to connect these efforts so that we can have a larger impact, together. Join us on the 22nd and toast to the strides made and those yet to come.

See you on the Potomac.

Reflections from an Environmental Leader: Youth Represents Earth Force at Conference

Guest blog post: Aidan White, Rising eighth grader at George Washington Middle School

This past school year, Earth Force sponsored my science class’ project to improve the local watershed. As a rising eighth grader at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, VA, I recently attended Our Task Inc.’s Annual Earth 2100 Conference at George Mason University representing Earth Force. It is a conference focused on young adults to help our generation realize the problems in our environment and how we can help fix them.

I was surprised to find that I was the youngest attendee, followed by a rising high school senior. Nevertheless, I was excited to learn. Day one included presentations from by Robert Engleman, a Senior Fellow of the Worldwatch Institute and Timothy Damon, the U.S. Youth Delegate to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. We then saw a presentation on renewable energy. Did you know that the U.S. is the second highest CO2 emitting nation (behind China)? Another panel included experts on alternative plans to help the environment. Two of the people on the panel were a brother and a sister named Carter and Olivia Ries. They founded a non-profit in 2009 called One More Generation (OMG). It focuses on saving endangered species for at least one more generation and educates students about the aforementioned species. They have helped hundreds of animals and educated thousands of students, all at the tender ages of 11 and 13.


Carter Ries (left), Olivia Ries (right), and I (middle)

Jacqui Patterson, the director of the NAACP’s Climate Change Initiative discussed Environmental Justice and the fact that most landfills, nuclear plants, and coal burning plants are built in areas with more people of color and ethnicity.

Day two kicked off with another presentation by Cater and Olivia Ries about the fact that anyone can make a difference. For example, Chick-Fil-A recently started serving paper straws at their restaurants instead of plastic all because Carter had a discussion with one of the managers about sustainability.

In the afternoon, we had an hour to talk with the heads of various environmental organizations. I was particularly interested with the Center for a New American Dream. Later, Hannah Debelius from the U.S. Green Building Council of Students gave a short presentation on her year living on Smith Island in Maryland. We then took a break to visit the George Mason student vegetable garden, being tended to this summer by Christine Harris, a current student at GMU.

(From left to right) Corn, peaches, cabbage, and squash growing at the GMU garden.

(From left to right) Corn, peaches, cabbage, and squash growing at the GMU garden.

When we got back to the conference room, we met up with the environmental organization heads again to discuss how to get involved. I am taking a pledge not to drink from plastic water bottles for 30 days (learn more here). We finished off with some closing remarks from the president of Our Task Inc., who put on the conference. All in all, it was an amazing experience, and I am grateful for Earth Force granting me this opportunity.

Conference attendees posing for a picture.

Conference attendees posing for a picture.