UMaine Training 100 High School Students, Teachers to Help Solve Stormwater Problem

About 100 students and teachers from 12 high schools and local Native American communities around the state will gather at the University of Maine for a three-day program that focuses on creating innovative solutions to environmental problems related to stormwater management.

UMaine Stormwater Management Research Team (SMART) Institute participants will work with university faculty, undergraduates and graduate students; city water planners; and representatives from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection during the program that runs from Wednesday, June 24 through Friday, June 26.

Now in its second year, the SMART Institute aims to engage a diverse group of students and teachers in training for the implementation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in their schools while addressing an important environmental issue. Stormwater runoff is a pressing and expensive problem for most major cities, and the model of the program — STEM solution-focused with diverse citizen involvement — will have nationwide applicability and appeal, program organizers say.

The institute is supported by a more than $735,000 grant awarded by the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Track III program that aims to empower female and minority high school students who are often underrepresented in STEM fields. The program also is supported by Emera Maine, Maine Community Foundation (Haskell-Stetson Trust) and IDEXX Corp.

Throughout the conference, students will take part in hands-on projects led by STEM professionals in areas such as engineering design, science, computer modeling and information technology to monitor and map water quality. Participants will tour UMaine labs and stormwater areas on campus, hear from guest speakers, and learn how to use wireless sensors to test water, as well as collect, enter and analyze data. Institute participants also will tour a lunar habitat on campus to see applications of wireless technology in other areas of research.

With the guidance of a representative from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, students will begin their work as “live sensors” on the Stillwater River in Orono, collecting samples of insects that are indicators of water quality. Students also will collect water samples and retrieve data from wireless sensors built by UMaine students. New this year, students will prepare and be judged on a group presentation to “tell the story” of the Stillwater River, based on data they gather and analyze during the institute.  An awards ceremony will be held before students depart.

An opening session will be held from 8–9 a.m. Wednesday, June 24 in the Hill Auditorium of Barrows Hall. Paige Brown, a 2015 SMART Institute participant and Bangor High School junior, will deliver the keynote address, “Identifying and Remediating the Sources of Pollution in Impaired Bangor Streams.” Brown is the winner of the Maine Stockholm Junior Water Prize, a prestigious youth award for a water-related science project, and will represent Maine at this year’s national competition in Washington, D.C.

The SMART Institute is open to Maine students who are currently in 10th or 11th grade. Females and minorities are strongly encouraged to apply. The program also trains high school teachers to co-facilitate the academic-year internships of their participating students.

This year’s participating high schools include Bangor, Casco Bay and Deering in Portland, Edward Little in Auburn, Greely in Cumberland, Lewiston, Old Town, Orono, Portland, Shead in Eastport, Traip Academy in Kittery and Washington Academy in East Machias.