Children from the Lacey Boys and Girls Club and a Saint Martin's student at the Nisqually River estuary

"Some of these kids could make careers out of this or find their passion in other ways, but it's a great opportunity all around to help out the younger generation."

Netania Craig
Biology Class of 2017

Last spring, three Saint Martin’s biology professors, Aaron Coby, Ph.D., Sam Fox, Ph.D. and Mary Jo Hartman, Ph.D., and several Saint Martin’s students who are involved with the SMU Biology Club led two educational trips for children from the Lacey Boys and Girls Club—one to nearby Woodland Creek, on the Saint Martin’s University campus, and one to the Nisqually Reach Nature Center.

Coby, Fox and Hartman sought and received a grant from the Mountaineers Foundation to conduct the two classes, and, as Fox explained, the initiative could not have happened without the foundation’s assistance.

The educational focus for the two expeditions was on the conservation of watersheds. At Woodland Creek, the Saint Martin’s faculty and students helped the children explore the creek’s environment and its connections to other waterways. “We taught the kids about how the creek collects water from the environment, then takes that water out to the estuary and Puget Sound,” Fox says. “And why we care about conserving different aspects of it, and why do we care about purer water and clean streams feeding into the Puget Sound.”

Netania Craig ’17, who graduated in May with a degree in biology, was one of the biology club members who helped out at both classes, and she talked about how the group used the trip to Woodland Creek to show the children different aspects of waterways. “It was a way to introduce them to the idea of ecology and how all these ecosystems are interconnected and to get them used to observing their surroundings and seeing how it all works,” she says.

On the second trip, a week later, the group went to the Nisqually Reach Nature Center to learn about the estuary and its wildlife. The children attended a presentation by the staff at the research center, and then went out to survey the beach, where they counted crabs, using quadrats to mark off areas for the survey, and reported on the results.

For Craig, the experience was a chance to introduce others to a subject that she loves. “It was a lot of fun to see the kids be so excited about the trips because it's something that I'm really excited about. Getting to experience something like this firsthand…I didn't get a lot of that when I was younger, and that would have been really meaningful to me at that age. Some of these kids could make careers out of this or find their passion in other ways, but it's a great opportunity all around to help out the younger generation.”

Fox expressed similar sentiments, saying that one of the most memorable parts of the trips for him was how the children reacted to the different activities. “The kids were finding crabs—and they're little tiny baby crabs—and getting so excited. That, to me, was a lot of fun,” he says and laughs. “We as scientists take it for granted, but putting on gloves—the kids got enthusiastic about putting on rubber gloves.” He added that he was impressed by how engaged the children were with the subject matter. “It's kind of hard to get adults to even appreciate, ‘Here's why the watershed matters. And here's why estuaries are important,’” he says. “But I felt that the kids really understood and appreciated that.”

The trips were so successful that Fox, Coby and Hartman would love to put on a similar program in the future. “This was our first foray,” Fox says, “but it’s something we’d really like to do again.”

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