For four weeks this summer, Newark middle school students spent their days in STEM activities at Montclair State as part of its Passaic Basin Eco-Explorers Program. The program, run by the University’s Passaic River Institute, provided the students with opportunities to visit nature sites related to the river and the region’s ecology and environmental infrastructure. The Eco-Explorers conducted field studies in local forests, streams and lakes and studied environmental science, ecology and computer technology through the program, which was made possible by donor support.
“This year, students visited and studied areas from the headwaters of the Passaic River to its mouth at Newark Bay,” says Passaic River Institute Director Meiyin Wu.
During the course of the program, Wu said, students learned about everything from watershed protection and the management of wildlife habitats to biodiversity and water sampling.
On a typical day, the Eco-Explorers were picked up from their Newark schools and taken to field activities at various locations including Paterson Falls and the South Mountain Reservation. Then they would head to campus for science and computer technology lessons. At the end of the month-long program, each student gave a PowerPoint presentation highlighting their experiences.
A priority for the Passaic River Institute is connecting students to STEM subjects, and substantial financial support from the Victoria Foundation and Landsberger Foundation made it possible to expand the program this year.
Besides exposing the students to nature and the environment, the program also focused on the benefits, threats, opportunities and obstacles related to the environmental infrastructure that supports their lives in Newark. The camp curriculum was designed to stimulate interest and curiosity about careers in ecology, environment science and computer technology and included a river clean-up service project.
“We hope to increase students’ interest in the feasibility of attending college and pursuing a career in science by introducing them to a university environment, where they can interact with college students and professors who are role models,” says Wu.