BGSU to lead Regents Environmental Academy

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Bowling Green State University is getting REAL about environmental health with high school juniors and seniors. The acronym stands for the Regents Environmental Academy for Learning, a program scheduled to begin this summer with $340,000 in funding from the Ohio Board of Regents.

Owens Community College is a partner in the academy, one of 10 for which the regents approved $3.5 million at their Jan. 18 meeting. The academies are aimed at encouraging high school juniors and seniors to study the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and foreign languages in college, particularly in hopes that the students will consider secondary teaching in those fields as a career.

Students who may not currently plan to study a STEM discipline or foreign language, or even to attend college, are targeted by the program. The academies will give about 500 Ohio juniors and seniors the chance to earn college credit, at no cost to them, while also meeting high school requirements.

BGSU's academy will focus on problem-based learning approaches in environmental health science—a teaching model developed through the University's Project EXCITE (Environmental health science eXplorations through Cross-disciplinary and Investigative Team Experiences). The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has funded EXCITE, primarily for students in the middle grades, with about $1.8 million over seven years.

“We're modifying for a higher grade level some of the curricula we developed for Project EXCITE,” said Dr. Charles “Chris” Keil, the academy director and an associate professor of environmental health at BGSU.

The three-week residential program—tentatively scheduled for June—may enroll as many as 55 students, who will be divided into four groups for instruction. In addition to earning college credit while their room and board is paid, participants will receive a $600 stipend. “We're hoping that will get kids interested,” he said, pointing out that applicants will be sought from throughout Ohio.

Students will earn credit in environmental health through BGSU and in chemistry, through Owens, while exploring environmental health issues such as “factory” farming. That will probably be the primary topic explored during the academy, although the students may “get their feet wet” with investigations of others, including mosquito control and the West Nile virus, and food health and safety, Keil noted.

Additional credits will be available during the school year through distance learning. While on campus, he explained, the students will start a basic chemistry course, which they will have the rest of the summer and early fall to complete online. Those who meet requirements may then take Environmental Health 210, which addresses international environmental health issues, as a distance course in spring 2008. That course meets BGSU's international perspectives requirement, and the University has agreed to waive instructional costs for taking it, he added.

Local teachers will collaborate with BGSU and Owens faculty to craft the academy curriculum, building on the materials and teaching approaches developed and field-tested by EXCITE. “We're hoping we'll get the best of the best to help us out,” said Keil, referring also to high school teachers who will join BGSU and Owens faculty and Bowling Green undergraduate students to form the three-member teaching teams that will instruct the four groups of students.

The goal for the juniors and seniors, he said, “is to get them in here and give them a really positive experience” with both science and the University.

Selected by an advisory committee to the regents, the state's 10 summer academies have been created in response to House Bill 115 of the 126th Ohio General Assembly, which recently appropriated $13.2 million to support the implementation of the Ohio Core curriculum. The enhanced curriculum standards, signed into law by former Gov. Bob Taft, are designed to better prepare high school students for college and the world of work.

“The academies are intended to meet both immediate needs for producing more highly qualified teachers in STEM and foreign language disciplines, as well as longer-term needs for building an infrastructure to increase the capacity of teachers and ensuring the success of students in transitioning to college and work,” according to the regents.

The Board of Regents is the coordinating body for higher education in Ohio. Created in 1963 by the General Assembly, the 11-member public board has a direct, non-governing relationship with all of the state's colleges and universities.

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(Posted January 19, 2007 )