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Research Communications

“Boat of Knowledge” project lands $2.6 million grant for GK-12 research and education 

National Science Foundation-funded program to stimulate interest in science, engineering careers

ATHENS, Ohio (April 20, 2010) – Ohio University engineering and science graduate students and regional high school science teachers will board a boat on the Ohio River starting this summer to conduct water quality research and learn new skills to engage area teens in science. The National Science Foundation has awarded Ohio University a five-year, $2.6 million grant for the project, “The Boat-of-Knowledge in the Science Classroom (BooKS in Classroom).”

As part of a federal push to encourage more young Americans to pursue high-demand careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the university is partnering with high schools in southeastern Ohio to offer teachers more hands-on training in conducting and analyzing research data, which they will use in the classroom for STEM education. The schools include Marietta High School, Athens High School, Alexander High School, Federal Hocking High School, Trimble High School, Meigs High School and Gallia Academy in Gallipolis.

 Boat of Knowledge

The Russ College of Engineering and Technology purchased this boat for the new STEM research and education project.

“The Ohio River is right in these students’ backyards, but they may not know much about it,” said Tiao Chang, a professor of civil engineering at Ohio University and leader of the new project. “By touching on something familiar in their lives, however, we will encourage them to become more interested in science.”

The project aims to give graduate students at Ohio University more experience with communicating science, engineering and technology knowledge to the general public and inspiring the next generation of inventors and scholars. The grant funds nine graduate fellowships with an annual stipend of $30,000 each, plus four quarters of tuition waivers.

This summer, the graduate fellows will pair up with nine teachers to conduct water sampling from the boat—purchased by the Russ College of Engineering and Technology for the project—during trips along the Ohio River from Marietta to Gallipolis. The teams will study issues such as water quality, pollution and sediment and the distribution of invasive zebra mussels and other species. Chang and Kelly Johnson, an associate professor of biological sciences, who both have experience in water and biological sampling, will guide the research.

The Ohio River is an interesting setting for research, as it receives heavy shipping traffic and delivers more discharge than the Mississippi River where the two waterways join at Cairo, Ill., said Chang, who serves as executive director for the Ohio River Basin Consortium for Research and Education. The Ohio River annually locks through more tonnage of commercial cargo than the Panama Canal, he added. 

Besides hands-on experience on the Boat of Knowledge, the high school studentsinvolved in the project will participate in the research virtually. The boat will remotely transmit research data to classrooms via the internet to a virtual “Boat of Knowledge,” which will be created by Chang Liu, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science. The graduate students and teachers will work with the students on skills such as data analysis, while connecting those tools to real-world science and engineering issues.

“Data manipulation is something that students sometimes struggle with on state proficiency tests, so this project will provide a good opportunity to help them with those skills,” said Teresa Franklin, an associate professor of educational studies who will serve as a liaison between Ohio University and the schools on the project. Franklin and Liu previously worked on another Ohio University project that engaged local middle school students in STEM education through the use of video games, which was popular with area school districts. 

In addition to the National Science Foundation grant, the BooKS in Classroom project is supported by the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Education, and the Office of Vice President for Research at Ohio University.

Contacts: Tiao Chang, (740) 593-1462, chang@ohio.edu; Director of Research Communications Andrea Gibson (740) 597-2166, gibsona@ohio.edu.