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Russ College students present project at national sustainability expo

By Joe Barbaree

ATHENS, Ohio (May 21, 2012) – Russ College students recently showcased their ongoing research as part of a national competition in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It was the second phase of the competition, after the team was awarded a $15,000 grant to develop their idea.SDC10216

Civil engineering and computer science students presented their collaborative project, the “Virtual Boat for Environmental Education (VBEE)” at the EPA’s Sustainability Competition for People, Prosperity and the Planet (“P3 Competition”) from April 21-23.

The virtual “boat” provides the public with a tool to review water quality at locations along the Ohio River and trace sources of pollution and other contaminants.

With 44 universities from across the nation, Ohio University’s team displayed their work alongside projects from other government agencies, non-profit organizations and businesses in the nation’s capitol.  

All of the work presented encompassed the National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall, where thousands of visitors had the chance to explore and share ideas with students and professionals.

The VBEE project already succeeded in the first phase of the EPA’s competition, winning the $15,000 grant and the trip to the national competition: A shot at $90,000 and victory over 270 other applicants in the first round.

The VBEE project grew from work begun by Professor of Civil Engineering Tiao Chang, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Kelly Johnson, Associate Professor of Computer Science Chang Liu and Professor of Educational Studies Teresa Franklin.

Their project – Boat of Knowledge in the Science Classroom (BooKS) – began as a program for graduate fellows to enhance their understanding of research and to improve communication and presentation skills.

This was achieved by creating a system to monitor water quality at various points along the Ohio River using a repurposed boat, transmitting the collected information to local high schools to use as supplemental educational material and then having graduate fellows work with each participating high school’s science teachers to monitor the results.

The VBEE team then compiled the results for a virtual boat – a software program for high school instructors to use as a learning tool. “The iPad version of the game -- with lesson plans -- is ready for use in high-school environmental science classes,” Chang said.

The nine participating BooKS schools in southeastern Ohio are beta-testing the program, including Alexander, Athens, Federal Hocking, Galla Academy, Marietta, Meigs, Tri-County Career Center, Trimble and Warren high schools.

According to VBEE Team Leader Justin Wiseman, the project was unique. “Our project was developed to teach students about sustainability through more preventative than protective measures,” Wiseman said.

Wiseman says the team was well prepared for the D.C. demonstration. “Other competitors focused more on specific sustainable issues while ours is applicable to a wide range of topics,” he said.

Chang says the students did their best work for the competition. “We’ll continue to improve and enhance the game’s capability for future uses,” he shared.

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