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Engineering Professor Exploring Watershed Sustainability with Middle School Students

A University of Maine engineering professor is working on a research and education grant focused on watershed sustainability, a project which includes helping middle school-aged children understand the effects of climate change on watershed sustainability in their own municipalities.
Shaleen Jain, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is doing research on developing models to understand the impact of climate change on freshwater resources and the role of water allocation in both ensuring reliable water supplies for communities and balance the health of the ecosystem.
Jain recently received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation to bolster his research. The five-year, $406,551 award also has an educational component, for which Jain will work with UMaine’s New Media Internet Technologies Laboratory to develop a new watershed sustainability-related gaming environment for students.
The program, called SimStream, allows students to explore the relationships between a stream, its ecosystem and a neighboring city. It was built using Scratch, a programming environment that was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory.
“We’ll be merging computational learning with environmental sustainability in middle schools,” Jain said. “We will work with students to develop their own conception of watersheds, where they can include various physical and cultural elements. We really think that issues of environmental sustainability are increasingly urgent and important to include as early in our K-12 education system as we can. So this is a small effort in that direction.”
Students at Stillwater Montessori School in Old Town experimented last spring with Scratch and will use the program again this autumn. Eventually Jain will partner with UMaine’s Wabanaki Center to develop an educational curriculum on watershed sustainability for middle-school students in Maine’s Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes.
In his research, Jain will collaborate with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and other water-related stakeholder groups.
NSF CAREER grants are highly selective awards to junior faculty who are promising researchers in their field. Previous CAREER awardees in UMaine’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department include Eric Landis, Jean MacRae and Roberto Lopez-Anido.
Jain, who has been at UMaine since 2006, is also a cooperating assistant professor in UMaine’s Climate Change Institute and the School of Policy and International Affairs. He is also part of the core faculty team working with the UMaine-based Sustainability Solutions Initiative, led by David Hart.

Contact: Shaleen Jain, (207) 581-2420 or shaleen.jain@umit.maine.edu; Jessica Bloch

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