Project Spotlight: Curriculum and Community Enterprise for New York Harbor Restoration in New York City Public Schools

Project Spotlight: Curriculum and Community Enterprise for New York Harbor Restoration in New York City Public Schools

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

STELAR recently caught up with Dr. Lauren Birney, Assistant Professor of STEM Education at PACE University's School of Education, and Director of The STEM Collaboratory NYC™. Dr. Birney serves as the Principal Investigator for the ITEST and ICER funded project Curriculum and Community Enterprise for the New York Harbor Restoration in New York City Public Schools (CCERS). This project works with NYC middle school students to study New York Harbor and conduct field research in support of restoring native oyster habitats, building on the existing work of the Billion Oyster Project. CCERS is led by Pace School of Education, and implemented by a consortium of partners including New York Harbor Foundation, New YorkCity Department of Education, Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, New York Academy of Sciences, University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, Good Shepherd Services, New York Aquarium, The River Project, SmartStart ECS, and others.

* Can you share how your project impacts youth? 

The CCERS project creates and establishes opportunities for New York City public school students to become citizen scientists and work at the water’s edge in New York Harbor. It provides students with a clearer lens into the dynamics of environmental restoration and research science. Middle schools are granted opportunities to work along side scientists, teachers, professors and fellow students while learning the necessary skills to participate in data collection and research analysis. 

* What excites you most about the work that you do every day?

The most exciting component of my work is knowing that I have the ability to provide opportunities for students who may have never been able to experience such scientific adventures. I love knowing that kids will end their day feeling that, "We had the best day - doing the coolest things and learning so much about STEM!"

* What do you think is your most important learning in this area, based on your project work to day? 

When you enter into project, you as the PI also have so much to learn about your team, partners, constituents and stakeholders.  I have learned about collaboration, synergy between organizations, creating dynamic interactions that lead to success and the delicate balance that is required to maintain continuity and success. Each day is adventure in engagement, forward momentum, alliances and overall growth. 

* How does your work connect to Smart and Connected Communities?

The CCERS project is wholly representative of a “living lab” in the backdrop of New York Harbor and truly is the signature for New York City. The interactions and interdependence of all the components of our “project ecosystem” is exemplified in our daily work, project outcomes and overarching goals. The project structure we have created will thrive as a model because all the constituents work together towards building a more environmentally sound community created by citizen scientists who are middle school students in New York City Public Schools. Providing the opportunity for young students to act as scientists, is the central core by which all of the partners function for this project and ultimately serves as the framework for Smart and Connected Communities to flourish, prosper and succeed!