A dramatically shifting climate and growing population provide scientists with a clear picture of an undeniable water crisis – looming closer for some than others. Hiram College professor of biology Denny Taylor, Ph.D., has seen firsthand the impact of this plight over the course of his 17 visits to Pakistan since 1993.
With its diminishing water tables, Pakistan will face a severe water shortage in the next five to 10 years, Taylor says. A recent article published by DW Akademie in Germany described Pakistan’s water scarcity as a threat bigger than terrorism. The changing climate is also affecting the Dominican Republic, raising sea levels and increasing severe weather events directly threatening many coastal communities, according to Taylor.
Taylor and colleagues from Kent State University and Case Western Reserve University are not standing by passively.
Last week, Taylor and students from Hiram greeted faculty and undergraduate students from Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan, and from small towns on the borders of Pakistan and the Dominican Republic. These new colleagues are learning biomonitoring techniques developed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to assess local environments. Next week, high school students from Pakistan, the Dominican Republic, inner-city Akron and Cleveland and suburban Summit County (Kent and Cuyahoga Falls) will join the group. Together, they will take to the woods, streams and wetlands at Hiram’s James H. Barrow Biological Field Station to access water quality, wetlands and primary headwaters. They’ll examine invertebrates, plant roots, ground erosion and other water quality indicators.
What does a presence of mayflies indicate? What could a water sample’s low oxygen level say about its quality? What differentiates pristine wetlands from those impacted by human interference and why does it matter?
In these field experiences, the high school students will serve as the investigators. Their near-peer mentors, Hiram, Pakistani and Dominican undergraduates, will guide them through the outdoor classroom lessons.
“We start with the students,” explains Taylor, describing the effectiveness of hands-on inquiry, a teaching approach the late James Barrow Jr., former professor and chair of biology at Hiram, used long before its popularity emerged. As one of Barrow’s students in the 1960s, Taylor, along with other biology students working at the field station at that time, formed educational outreach programs for some 3,000 area grade, middle and high school students.
“We were modeling what teachers could do to engage students without lecturing,” Taylor says. “As near-peers showing how learning can be fun, the students could relate to us.”
In this same spirit, an end goal of the program, Learning Streams International Institute, is to teach and reinforce hands-on, inquiry-based discovery learning. Ultimately, the program – funded at its 2007 start by the Ohio Board of Regents and from 2013 through this year by the U.S. Department of State, Counterpart International and the Paul and Maxine Frohring Foundation – aims to help citizens facing water and climate crises to mitigate them through emergency planning.
“Everything we’re learning we’ll take back to the Dominican Republic and implement in the schools so the younger generation can spread it out,” says near-peer mentor Christopher Esquea, a biology student at Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo. Esquea adds that his experiences training with undergraduates and university faculty members from Pakistan and the U.S. have been life-changing.
Taylor joins Michael Benedict, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of environmental studies at Hiram; Sonya Wisdom, Ph.D., assistant professor for Kent State’s Science and Learning Education Center; Mary Louise Holly, professor emerita of education for Kent State; James Bader, executive director of the Leonard Gelfand STEM Center at Case Western Reserve University; Chris Carman, science teacher at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent; Lucy Chamberlain ’77 of the Alfred W Couch Farm Co.; and John and Mary Buchenic of Solar Sisters, a solar cooking nonprofit organization, to lead the institute. Their destinations, in addition to Hiram, include Chincoteague, Va., New York City, Kelleys Island in Lake Erie and the KSU campus.
“The problems of the 21 century are going to be best addressed through a collaborative effort where people find common ground for solutions and our institute models that,” Taylor says.