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EPA inspires high school students through organization and participation in climate change workshop


EPA scientist, Prakash Bhave, draws a diagram to demonstrate how greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.

EPA atmospheric scientist Tanya Otte struck a pose to show off her modeling skills before giving a presentation on atmospheric modeling to a group of high school students during a weeklong climate change workshop held at EPA’s Research Triangle Park (RTP) facility June 10-13.

The EPA-hosted workshop included 31 academically talented high school students selected based on their interest in pursuing a career in science. Students listened with enthusiasm as Desmond Mayes, Acting Deputy Director of EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory, welcomed them and gave opening remarks the first morning. Representatives from EPA and organizations outside the agency gave presentations and led a variety of hands-on activities on topics such as sources of green house gases, ecological impacts of climate change, climate change and health, and living sustainably.

The workshop included speakers from the Alliance for Climate Education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, the State Climate Office of North Carolina, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

“As climate change becomes an increasingly important issue, these workshops are more relevant and critical in informing students of environmental challenges and potential solutions,” said Kelly Leovic, Director of EPA’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Outreach Program at its Research Triangle Park, N.C. facility.

In an effort to keep the workshop interesting, many speakers tried to involve students without relying solely on classroom lectures.

“Keep in mind I’m a scientist, not an artist,” said EPA atmospheric scientist Prakash Bhave when he opted to skip the traditional Power Point presentation and instead use paper and markers to draw diagrams as students described to him their understanding of how greenhouse gases contribute to global warming. Bhave also engaged students through a game of trivia in which students had to guess the top 20 countries that emit the most carbon dioxide.


Students take measurements using infrared thermometers and carbon dioxide sensors along a walking trail at EPA’s Research Triangle Park facility.

Workshop organizers aimed to keep students moving around and actively participating. “We don’t want the students to feel like they’re in school,” Leovic said. “We want to keep them excited and provide a learning experience that they will want to share with others outside of the workshop.”

Rachel Clark, an EPA Student Services Contractor who works with Leovic on the STEM program, led a scavenger hunt that sent students roaming the Research Triangle Park campus in search of clues and learning about the campus along the way. “Water is precious, so we don’t waste a drop, faucets with sensors are not just a prop,” read one of the clues. The scavenger hunt allowed students to become familiar with the facility while seeing how EPA implements daily environmental practices such as composting, recycling, and using motion sensor lights.

Students were particularly excited about the various hands-on activities at the workshop. A representative from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provided infrared thermometers and carbon dioxide sensors and allowed students to take measurements outside around the facility’s lake and walking trails.

Karoline Johnson, an EPA Student Services Contractor, assisted students in constructing particle sensors that lit up to indicate high concentrations of particulate matter. Workshop participant Keenan Thungtrakul, a junior at Jordan High School in Durham, N.C., was particularly interested in this activity. “I’ve always been interested in building and designing things,” he said. “Even though I still have two more years left in high school, I already know I want to major in aeronautical engineering in college.”

Thungtrakul brought sketches of an airplane to the workshop that he drew during his free time. “I want to eventually design airplanes that have the capability to remove carbon dioxide from the air,” he said. The workshop provided a platform for Thungtrakul and other students to share ideas with scientists and their peers.

In addition to science-based activities, outreach and networking activities were also an important part of the workshop, as they allowed students to reflect on what they learned and spread knowledge to others.

During a networking lunch on the workshop’s final day, students had the opportunity to ask EPA scientists more about their research. Students were also given the opportunity to attend an additional workshop session where a speaker from the Alliance for Climate Education helped students identify specific ways they could incorporate environmental practices into their communities.

Particle Sensors

High school student, Keenan Thungtrakul, builds a particle sensor at EPA’s climate change workshop.

“Several friends and I have started an environmental club at my school,” said Aditi Garikipati, a senior at the Early College at Guilford, in Greensboro, N.C. “We have weekly meetings and go to other schools to give presentations on how students can be more environmentally friendly. The workshop has given me a lot of ideas for how our club can become even more active in the community.”

The workshop wrapped up with discussions with EPA scientists about careers in the environmental field. Students were excited to learn about the wide array of jobs relating to the environmental field — including scientists, statisticians, economists, lawyers, and even divers.

“I hope to have a career in the field of marine biomedicine,” Garikipati said. “Even though I already have an idea of what I want to do, I am interested in all aspects of environmental sciences, so it’s great to see all the opportunities available.”

This is the third annual climate change workshop hosted on the EPA’s Research Triangle Park campus, and organizers hope to continue to make it an annual event.

“Climate change is an environmental issue that will likely have greater impacts on future generations,” Leovic noted. “The workshop will allow the scientists of today to educate and inspire the next generation of scientists, policymakers, and leaders.”

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