University Launches Innovative Marine Environmental Education Program, Invites the Public’s Involvement
The Citizen Opportunities for Accessing Science Training on the Sound (COASTS) program will train nearly two dozen local community members to become citizen scientists, fostering education and marine stewardship of Long Island Sound.
May 20, 2022
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Barry Libowitz ’23 is looking forward to what promises to be an exciting and unique experience this summer. He will be part of an innovative new environmental education program that will enable him to share his passion for marine biology with members of the local community.
Libowitz will be assisting several University faculty members who will be leading the inaugural Citizen Opportunities for Accessing Science Training on the Sound (COASTS) program. He looks forward to applying his own knowledge of the field as he helps his professors educate participants, set up for each day’s programming, and assist with the program’s community events.
“This program will allow me to test out so many skills I've learned in the classroom,” he said. “I'm a big believer in the idea that you do not really know something unless you can teach it. It’s my hope that by teaching the volunteers about different equipment and theories involved in marine sciences, I will expand my own understanding of them.”
‘Empowering people to become better stewards’
University of New Haven faculty have, with the support of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund, created COASTS to offer marine environmental education opportunities to local community members. The volunteer participants will be trained as “COASTers,” learning about Long Island Sound and gaining hands-on experience as citizen scientists.
Amy Carlile, Ph.D., one of the principal investigators for the program, is looking forward to sharing her expertise in marine plants and algae. Eager to be involved with more local outreach opportunities, she and her colleagues are excited to share their passion for the local environment.
“By providing equitable educational opportunities, we hope to increase knowledge and connection with the marine environment,” said Dr. Carlile, an associate professor and chair of the Biology and Environmental Science Department at the University. “This will, in turn, lead to a greater appreciation of the Long Island Sound and its resources. This appreciation and increased knowledge are an effective combination in truly empowering people to become better stewards of their ‘blue backyard.’”
‘Inspire a personal connection to marine life’
As part of the comprehensive three-month stewardship program, participants will learn techniques for understanding the flora, fauna, ecology, and water quality of Long Island Sound. Faculty experts will teach them field skills, and participants will explore the science and conservation of the Long Island Sound watershed.
Karin Jakubowski, Ph.D., a practitioner in residence of biology and environmental science, hopes the program encourages citizen scientists to get involved and to ask questions. She will be helping them learn methods for teaching and communicating science, and she envisions the program’s impact going beyond education.
“I hope the program will connect a diverse group of residents of all ages and backgrounds to Long Island Sound,” she said. “Opportunities to get out and experience nature in our local marine environments can inspire a personal connection to marine life, the resources we use from the Sound, and the ecosystems found there.
“To foster this stewardship, people need to first have positive experiences around the Sound,” she continued. “We hope to impact the community by providing such educational experiences to people who may not have such opportunities. I hope our trainees feel proud to reside by this incredible estuary.”
‘Get involved in conservation’
Open to 20 community members from New Haven and West Haven, the program is for participants who are at least 16 years old as of June 1, 2022, and who are interested in learning about the ocean and then sharing their knowledge. Participants, who do not need to have previous science experience, must apply by June 5.
Participants will learn about the human dimensions of coastal management, as well as how to discuss science, conservation, and policy with the general public. They will apply their knowledge through educational community events and through two professional development workshops for 50 local educators.
“The COASTS program is a great opportunity for members of the community to learn more about the Long Island Sound and to get involved in conservation,” said Christian Conroy, Ph.D., an assistant professor and coordinator of the University’s graduate program in environmental science. “Those who join us will get the chance to explore our local estuaries and beaches with University of New Haven faculty and other experts, practicing the techniques we use to study the Sound.”
‘The next step in outreach’
The immersive programs will be held at field sites along Long Island Sound and at the Canal Dock Boathouse in New Haven. Classes for participants will be held weekly, and the program will also include several field days at various local sites. In addition to the University faculty, participants will also learn from experts from Mystic Aquarium and the National Audubon Society.
Faculty will also hold a year-end conference to review the lessons learned, what was successful, and challenges they faced, and to explore recommendations for future training and community outreach events.
“This grant allows us to take the next step in our outreach,” said Jean-Paul Simjouw, Ph.D., a senior lecturer and coordinator of the University’s undergraduate programs in environmental science and marine biology. “We already offer courses with a service-learning component where students work with local community organizations on projects, but now we get to involve members of the community directly. This grant will strengthen the bond between the University and the community.”
‘This will be a great opportunity’
In addition to diversifying and expanding the University’s programming, COASTS will create new opportunities for University of New Haven students to work with the community and apply what they’ve learned in the classroom.
For Libowitz, the marine biology major, the program is an exciting opportunity for him to educate community members while also learning himself. A communication minor, he will be taking photos and videos of the program to help document it for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund. He hopes it will help him explore new career possibilities as well.
“The opportunity to combine my passions for marine biology and communication in a single program is a real test to me of what sorts of skills I can develop,” he said. “In addition, education is a field I am considering pursuing after graduation, and, thus, this will be a great opportunity to see how I enjoy working with various age groups in an informal educational setting.”