Monday, November 13, 2006

The URI SMILE Program - Connecting Environmental Scientists and Students with Underrepresented Groups.

Josef Gorres, Univ of Rhode Island, 109 Coastal Institute, Kingston, RI 02881, Darryl Keith, USEPA - Atlantic Ecology Division, 27 Tarzwell Drive, Narragansett, RI 02882, and Augusto Gomes, Broadrock Middle School, Broadrock Road, Wakefield, RI 02879.

The Science and Mathematics Investigate Learning Experience (SMILE) Program is an after-school program that connects 4th to 12th grade students with environmental scientists and students.  SMILE students are from groups underrepresented in science, technology and mathematics professions. SMILE’s demographics include 40% Caucasian, 12% African American, 17% Hispanics, 10% Native American and 21% other minorities. The SMILE clubs also include 60% females. Based at the University of Rhode Island and partnering with urban school districts, SMILE exposes 4th to 12th graders, who have little knowledge of the natural environment and the sciences, to problem-solving, hands-on activities. In a three-credit workshop course, 20 to 30 URI students develop environmental science lessons, preparing for teaching and mentoring 4th and 5th graders at the Elementary Outdoor Science Adventure (EOSA). SMILE has partnered with scientists from URI’s Natural Resources Science Department (NRS) and the USEPA Atlantic Ecology Division to expose children to environmental science during annual events such as the EOSA and the EPA Environmental Challenge Day. During the EOSA, URI students, mainly from NRS, guide elementary school students through six field studies at URI’s Alton Jones Campus. During the high school environmental challenge, EPA scientists facilitate approaches to solving environmental problems, for example a hypothetical chemical spill, with groups of students taking on the roles of toxicologists, soil scientists, and engineers. The EPA also hosts several SMILE high school students as summer interns. A recent independent evaluation of the program has shown that the EOSA and the EPA challenge are highly valued by URI and SMILE students, teachers and parents. The study also showed that SMILE is successful in motivating students to go to college. Several SMILE alums have majored in environmental or related fields. Recently, because of SMILE, the university was granted the distinction of College of Conscience in the 2005 Princeton Review.