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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Northeast Indiana, USA

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Northeast Indiana, USA
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Forsythe1



Registered: December 2016
City/Town/Province: Huntington
Posts: 1
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Superheroes. We read about them in comic books, we watch them in movies, and we play video games about them. We admire their abilities and we aspire to be more like them. In an ideal world, they would travel among us, and we could watch them perform amazing feats on a daily basis. We could interact with them and learn from them. We believe the world would be a better place if superheroes roamed the earth. Is this a fantasy? Yes, but such a fantasy world is not science fiction; we already live in a world in which superheroes outnumber humans!


Earth's superheroes are often hidden from our view, not because they use stealth technology, but because we have not looked closely enough. They have abilities that are straight out of the pages of our favorite science fiction novels, and they use those supernatural skills every day, often to our benefit. Some can fly at almost 200mph, while others can fly backwards while pollinating our plants. Still others are immune to diseases and help keep us safe from dangerous illnesses. We cross paths with these superheroes every day, but we rarely recognize them for their amazing abilities and beneficial nature. These superheroes never ask for our thanks, but they do need our help. Who are these remarkable superheroes? Birds.


I love birds. They inspire me and motivate me. They bring me joy and hope. They are the driving force behind my community service efforts and my hobbies. Birds are my superheroes. However, it was not so long ago that birds and nature were invisible and irrelevant to me.


A few years ago, I was assigned a project requiring me to watch a bird feeder for a week. I groaned and complained. I had better things to do! I muttered about the project to a naturalist at a state park who happened to be a "birder". He shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with me, and he introduced me to another naturalist who banded Northern Saw-whet Owls. I got to see an owl up close during a banding program and I was hooked; I became a birder that instant! Since that fateful day, much has happened to deepen my love for birds and nature. I was named Indiana Audubon's first Young Birder of the Year, I serve as a founding youth board member of the R4B (Race for Birds) Foundation, I volunteer for a raptor rehab, I lead birding hikes at nature conferences across the Midwest, I am in charge of the Adams County Breeding Bird Survey for the U.S. Geological Survey, and I write the "Bird of the Month" articles for the Indiana Audubon Society's website.


I enjoy sharing my love of birds with anyone who will listen. My Apprentice Ecologist "Outreach" Project has allowed me to reach new audiences this year, including every fourth grade student in the Adams County School District, Junior Master Naturalist groups in northeast Indiana, Scout groups throughout Indiana, and public, private and Amish schools and educators not only in Indiana but across the Midwest.


I think it is very important for children to connect to the natural world. Multiple studies have found links between an exposure to nature and better health, along with links to increased scholastic performance. However, a significant percentage of students live in cities; a walk in the woods by a babbling brook is simply not possible.


I believe bird watching is a gateway to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural world. Everyone has birds around, even if they reside in the heart of an urban environment. Bird watching is so easy to do! You can find birds anywhere, from the largest cities to rural farmland to some of the most remote locations on Earth. Thus, bird watching can be easily incorporated into any curriculum or any activity. Therefore, my Apprentice Ecologist Initiative "Outreach" Project inspires children to go outside, take a look at the birds, and study bird behavior and habitats. By understanding and appreciating the birds, it is my hope that the students' interests will expand and develop into a deeper, life-long understanding and appreciation for the natural world around them.


My project is multi-faceted and includes a number of components: thematic units, visual aids, biofacts, experiments, multimedia presentations, group project ideas, research project ideas, community projects, and games. To deliver these resources, I have created websites with downloadable materials; a Teacher's Backpack filled with field guides, binoculars, equipment and resources for teachers to use in the field with their students; a Bird Box trunk filled with books, videos, worksheets, curricula, biofacts, visual aids, and games for teachers to use in the classroom; a Chimney Swift Tower inspired by Gene Stratton-Porter and erected at Limberlost State Historic Site that is "owned" by children who place their personalized cedar Swifts on the Tower; and a "Birding with Gene" mobile app to combine the identification of birds with the poetic words of one of Indiana's most famous naturalists: Gene Stratton-Porter. All of the components in my Apprentice Ecologist "Outreach" Project are free to use, and I travel across the Midwest to share the materials with students, teachers, Audubon groups, Junior Master Naturalist groups, state and county parks, and other organizations.


The components can be used individually or together, and they were designed for learners of all abilities and experience levels. Since I have a learning disability, I understand how important it is for any curriculum to be hands-on, dynamic, and multi-disciplinary. Every child learns differently, but all children benefit from interactive, thought-provoking activities that motivate them to delve deeper into a subject on their own after the assigned project is over. For that reason, I have designed the activities in my project to be engaging and to encourage critical thinking and discovery. In addition, the activities are meant to grow, evolve and adapt so that they can be incorporated into new and different curricula, if the situation requires.


My "Outreach" Project has been well received and used by hundreds of children this year. Some of the children have become active birders, others have been encouraged to grow native plants and remove invasive plants in order to help the birds, many children have taken ownership of the Chimney Swift Tower, and still others are becoming volunteers at the parks and wildlife rehabilitation facilities in their area. In every instance, the children have been captivated and actively engaged during activities; not once have I seen a bored or uninterested student.


Working on the Apprentice Ecologist "Outreach" Project has been one of the highlights of my life. Watching a child's eyes light up as he learns about the speed of a Peregrine, or listening to the exclamations of a student when she sees her first owl, then later learning that those same students have gone on to further their interest, knowledge and involvement in helping the birds and their habitats, gives me such joy and hope for the future. Gene Stratton-Porter once said: "If only one person enjoys ['The Moths of the Limberlost'] one-tenth as much as I enjoyed the making of it, I will have been fully repaid." Likewise, if only one person has enjoyed my Apprentice Ecologist "Outreach" Project one-tenth as much as I enjoyed making it and implementing it, I am completely fulfilled.


END OF ESSAY


Post-project Interview with NWP:


What are your educational, career, and life goals?


I would like to help develop more wildlife-friendly green energy solutions. The development of green energy is important for our planet, but the current technologies have significant drawbacks. Wind turbines, for example, can cause a significant loss in our migratory bird populations, especially when placed in flyways. The power of the wind can be harnessed without risking the lives of endangered birds. The power of the sun can be harnessed with more efficiency, and the power of water can be harnessed without disrupting fish migration.


In addition to new green energy technologies, I would like to help develop new tracking devices for birds. In order to fully understand the status of the various bird populations, we need smaller, more powerful, fully featured, and lightweight tracking devices that have less impact on the birds yet deliver more useful information for a longer period of time.


Innovative electrical and computer engineers are needed to find solutions to these problems. I want to be part of that team. I will be dual majoring in electrical and computer engineering, with dual minors in computer science and math. Each summer, I plan to obtain an internship to further hone my skills beyond the classroom. After obtaining my bachelorís degree, and while working in industry, I plan to continue my education and obtain my masterís and PhD so that I can also become a professor. I want to make my mark on industry, but it is perhaps more important to help guide and influence the next generation to become proper stewards of the earth and improve on all that we have done.



What are the benefits of your Apprentice Ecologist project and how has it enriched your life?


My Apprentice Ecologist project is designed to provide a gateway to nature for children no matter where they live. Birds are everywhere - cities, suburbs, and farmlands Ė so they are easy to find and study. They are also fascinating and diverse, from the powerful Great-horned owl with tremendous grip strength, to the diminutive hummingbird with the stamina to fly across the Gulf of Mexico. Birds have a wealth of differing abilities that could engage a researcher for a lifetime. Discussions and observations about birds can take place while hiking through wetlands, during a drive through woodlands, or while sitting in a classroom. The materials I developed have been used in all of these situations by public, private, Amish and home schools.


In this age of electronics, I feel it is important to reconnect children to the natural world around them. All too often, childrenís eyes are glazed over and glued to a screen, whether it is the screen on their phone or a video console. However, there is a noticeable spark in the eyes of children when they realize that nature is "cool". At times, I see that spark during a hike. Sometimes I see it when I bring in a rehabilitation bird. At other times, I see it when we talk about an unusual adaptation. Their eyes light up, their phones are put away, and they start asking dozens of questions. That is the moment when I know they have reconnected with nature. That is the moment that fills my heart with joy. Once they discover birds, they usually become fascinated with the habitats, the birdsí prey, the birdsí predators, and the species that co-exist with the birds. Birds open the doorway to discovering the wonders of nature.



Why do you feel it is important to be an active steward of the environment now and in the future?


Each person has a duty and obligation to be an active steward of the environment. We have but one planet, and every living thing is connected to each other in a beautiful but complicated web. If one of the nodes on the web is broken, the web is weakened. If too many nodes become extinct, the entire web will collapse. Only humans have the power to ensure the continued existence of an intact web. We have the responsibility to use that power to the best of our ability for the sake of our planet, our future, and ourselves.
Date: December 29, 2016 ∑ Views: 421 ∑ File size: 11.9kb, 58.1kbDimensions: 960 x 720 ∑
Hours Volunteered: 380
Volunteers: 19
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 16 to 65
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