Need: To develop and evaluate innovative methods for promoting discipline-specific data literacy in environmental science among undergraduate STEM students, Saint Joseph’s College of Maine is developing an Environmental Technology and Data Literacy Program. The goal of this project is to prepare undergraduate students to fill the growing professional, scientific, and management careers that communities and society require to manage issues such as climate change, ecosystem disruption, and at-risk aging infrastructure. There is a need for STEM education that prepares students in the “hard skills” of data analysis and interpretation, and the “soft skills” of outreach and communication to diverse stakeholders and audiences. The objectives are (1) to develop coursework to establish a new minor in environmental technology and data literacy to improve comprehensive environmental data literacy and (2) to provide students field experiences and research opportunities, in a community-based learning format with regional partners.
Guiding Question, Expected Outcomes: The project specifically will address the question of whether a focused minor is effective at delivering key 21st-century-data-science priorities for environmental science STEM programs. To answer this question, the research plan will evaluate the influence of this curriculum on students’ technical competencies and communication skills, self-efficacy, and retention, graduation, and employment outcomes. Since this project will create a curriculum using publicly available data sets and analysis tools, it will be suitable for dissemination as a model for environmental data literacy education, and adoption by other institutions of higher education.
Broader Impacts: Saint Joseph’s College of Maine’s Environmental Technology and Data Literacy minor will improve the education of undergraduate students in a key STEM field that affects the following: (1) the well-being of individuals in society, (2) the public’s engagement with science, and (3) partnerships between academia and public/private partners. The nation is depending on environmental scientists to collect, analyze, interpret, and apply large data sets to construct the conceptual models of ecosystem function needed to inform management the increasing demand for natural resources society depends on, and the increasing disruptions to ecosystems and municipalities caused by climate change. Deeper partnerships with public- and private-sector institutions are key to ensuring these courses will produce the integrative environmental data literacy skills needed by the next generation of environmental scientists. The comprehensive dissemination of this research should support the adaptation and implementation of this minor or analogous models in undergraduate education. This has the potential to multiply the number of undergraduates trained in this critical aspect of 21st century environmental science, and broadly advance STEM teaching practices.
Ryan Dorland, Marion Young, Saint Joseph’s College of Maine