Gates Co. students, teachers to participate in research alongside ECU faculty

Published 5:40 pm Thursday, July 6, 2023

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For the Gates County Index

Several teachers and students from Gates County Schools will have the opportunity to participate in hands-on research alongside faculty from East Carolina University’s Center for STEM Education this summer through the Summer Ventures in Science and Mathematics (SVSM) program.

The cost-free enrichment program will run for four weeks with varying start dates at four North Carolina universities, including Appalachian State University, University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte, UNC at Wilmington and East Carolina University.

Participants are selected by an admissions committee made up of professionals in education, science and mathematics from throughout North Carolina.

Students who participate in SVSM are provided the opportunity to live on a college campus for the summer, receive classroom instruction from university faculty and engage in hands-on STEM research in an institutional setting.

“This is as real as it gets, this is exactly what scientists are working on, it’s not a classroom activity,” said Daniel Dickerson, associate dean for research at ECU’s College of Education. “It’s an opportunity to contribute in real ways so their work is actually part of the scientific community.”

Dickerson, one of the faculty members supervising SVSM, said two high school students from Gates County Schools will participate in the program this month thanks to funding provided by the Ray and Judy Felton Family Foundation.

Alongside ECU faculty, several Gates County teachers will also participate in the STEM research conducted throughout SVSM using environmental monitoring technology. While the teachers will study existing data that has previously been gathered by Dickerson and his colleagues, he said they will also learn how to install and deploy the technology themselves.

The handful of teachers and students from Gates County will design and conduct their own scientific research studies based on the data gathered, Dickerson added, which will have the opportunity to later be shared at scientific conferences or in academic research journals.

“These teachers will ultimately be working with their students, using that technology,” Dickerson said. “This will allow them to see how it’s installed, how it’s put together, and provide the opportunity for them to take that back to Gates County to show every student (the academic research process).”

The research, which is part of a long-term study led by faculty from ECU, Old Dominion University, and other educators from around the world, uses floating buoys that act as sensors to measure changes in ocean currents. The buoys also gather data on physical water quality, salinity, pollution and more.

Petros Katsioloudis, associate dean for Faculty Affairs and Community Engagement at Old Dominion University, is one of the faculty members participating alongside Dickerson in the international research study.

“The buoy deployment project showcases an excellent example of an authentic learning experience that can engage students and teachers in the STEM fields and potentially enhance their theoretical and hands-on skills,” Katsioloudis said.

The use of buoys provides not only a hands-on experience for the students, Dickerson said, but an opportunity to participate in real world problem-solving.

As global temperatures rise, the ECU faculty member said ocean temperatures are also affected. He added that these changes can have a large impact on ocean patterns throughout the world.

Buoys have already been deployed in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Teachers from Gates County will have the chance to install and deploy buoys off the coast of North Carolina from Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro.

“That’s what the students will actually be looking at, is how are ocean currents in different places around the world, how are they changing over time,” Dickerson explained. “They’ll be able to pair these different locations with these different types of water bodies and be able to learn about them, but also be able to share information through their research.”

Throughout SVSM, Dickerson said students who participate in ECU’s program will also have the chance to participate in other hands-on research activities alongside faculty.

For the Gates County students involved, Dickerson said the hands-on research at SVSM provides them an opportunity to build college applications and resumes, as well as get a first glance at the world of academic research.

Most higher education opportunities intended to immerse high school students are usually only available to those in urban areas, Dickerson said, while rural areas like Gates County, where the ECU faculty member is from, lack many of those resources.

Dickerson said programs like SVSM allow high school students to participate in STEM learning opportunities that might not be available to them in their everyday K-12 curriculum.

“The dollars that the Feltons have contributed is providing these kids an opportunity that they wouldn’t really have otherwise,” Dickerson said. “It allows them to be able to work with the scientific community and to let their talents shine.”