UMaine Awarded $735,000 for Stormwater Management Study Aimed at Students Often Underrepresented in STEM Fields

Empowering female and minority high school students, their teachers and communities to create innovative solutions to the environmental problems related to stormwater management is the goal of a new three-year project at the University of Maine, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The more than $735,000 award from NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) is part of the portfolio of projects of Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine. It is expected to involve approximately 180 Maine high school students and 45 teachers in hands-on projects led by science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals in areas such as engineering design, science, computer modeling and information technology to monitor and map water quality around several Maine communities.

The UMaine award was announced Sept. 17 by NSF as one of five projects aimed at broadening STEM participation through regional improvements to education and human resources infrastructure. A news release about the other projects at the University of New Hampshire, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nevada System of Higher Education and University of Kentucky Research Foundation is online.

The goal of UMaine’s project, which will begin in January 2014, is to attract students who are often underrepresented in the engineering field to STEM education by investigating innovative and cost-effective solutions to local stormwater problems.

“Bringing together a diverse community of high school and middle school students, teachers, local and regional water authorities, environmental protection groups and tribal communities with university scientists and students, this project has the potential to make significant improvements in water quality across the state while engaging participants in STEM education.

“Using the tools of engineering technology, real-time data management and Web-based digital mapping, students will be directly involved in every project stage — from design of water-quality sensing units to implementation of community outreach programs about stormwater pollution issues,” according to Mohamad Musavi, UMaine associate dean of the College of Engineering and professor of electrical and computer engineering, who is also the principal investigator of the project.

The project activities will begin in the summer of 2014 with a five-day Stormwater Institute at the University of Maine, to introduce the students and their teachers to the issues, science and engineering related to managing stormwater runoff.

With a focus on investigating and improving water quality, which plays a role in the health of our environment and economy, the project is expected to attract a variety of individuals and community groups. Students will work on the project throughout the year under the mentorship of a teacher and/or community leader.

Along with advancing the knowledge of a variety of students and teachers in STEM education, the project will produce new watershed maps and management plans for several streams that will lead to improved water quality.

In the long term, the research aims to benefit society by offering a viable and cost-effective solution to the problem of stormwater through a project that has been designed to be replicated, scaled and used by other educators nationwide.

The initial focus of the pilot project will be on students from four partner high schools: Bangor, Portland, Lewiston and Edward Little in Auburn, plus students from Maine’s Native American communities. As space allows, students from additional high schools in the targeted Maine water district areas (Lower Penobscot, Portland and Lake Auburn Watershed) will be added to the project.

More information about how to get involved will be available soon on EPSCoR’s website.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747