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Strong community partnerships foundation for Voinovich School’s energy and environmental work

Published: May 27, 2022 Author: Tosha Jupiter

Cups of everyday household staples line the tables like a rainbow as tiny hands dip test strips to see if the liquids are acidic or basic. There’s clear washing soda, yellow whisked eggs, and orange hot sauce. Science comes alive in Jenni Domo’s classroom.

Domo is the director of the SCOPES Academy at Union-Scioto Local School District. She teaches science to first through fifth graders and helps create community partnerships, write grants, and design curriculum that’s aligned with the Ohio Department of Education STEM/STEAM (STEAM also integrates the arts) designated schools.

Domo, a 1992 Ohio University alumna with a degree in elementary education, also is a key community partner for the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service and helps test educational programs while turning grant dollars into projects that reach Ohioans and positively affect communities for generations. Her latest collaboration with the Voinovich School to create a web-based, accessible lesson about the lifecycle of energy and waste development is thanks to an E2 Energy to Educate grant from Baltimore-based Constellation.

“I always say that my students must 'see it to be it.' I would like to thank Constellation and the supporters of this program for providing these meaningful opportunities in STEM education for my Appalachian, rural students. Working with these professionals in the field provides real-life and contextualized experiences for them that will surely last a lifetime,” Domo said. “With this grant they will 'see it' and will be empowered to 'be it' in a future career one day."

Grant awards energize and inspire good work

Grant awards underpin much of the environmental and energy work the Voinovich School does and multiple projects are going at any given time – all to help create opportunities to balance energy, waste, technology, education, and equity issues in Ohio and the Appalachian region.

“Our work is done in many forms – research, convening, teaching, collaborating, fieldwork – but it all goes back to public service and our commitment to contributing to a bright future for our communities in rural Ohio,” said Jen Bowman, director of environmental programs at the Voinovich School. “The grant awards and funding that support and energize our work literally power everything we do. It’s our privilege to pour those dollars into our communities and help to educate and invest in the future stewards of the land we call home and the public servants who protect it.”

Remember the colorful classroom game of pH Bingo from Domo’s classroom? That lesson is a part of the STEAM Ahead program, a monthly science and arts enrichment program hosted by Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth LLC, the U.S. Department of Energy’s contractor for the decontamination and decommissioning of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio, and the Voinovich School, that offers students additional science, technology, engineering, arts, and math programming and activities.

The relationship with Fluor-BWXT began more than a decade ago through many enduring collaborations with the Voinovich School’s PORTSfuture Program that is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (DOE EM). 

“The resources provided by DOE EM have enabled the School to broadly expand our reach and impact by leveraging partners and resources for the common goal of enriching bright young minds in the region,” said Stephanie Howe, Director of Energy Programs at the Voinovich School.

“By partnering with the Voinovich School, this has allowed us to extend opportunities to other universities and educational programs to get involved and allow ‘STEAM Ahead’ to continue to grow,” Deneen Garner, Lead Community Relations Specialist for Fluor-BWXT, said. “We have heard positive feedback from the school districts we have touched and have even received inquiries from other school districts to offer the program there in the future.”

Nora Sullivan, an environmental specialist at Voinovich, said the students enjoy pH Bingo because it is hands-on and the activity gives teachers a chance to explore pH, a topic they often don’t get to introduce in their classes. Sullivan worked with Amy Mackey, project manager for energy and environmental programs at Voinovich, and two AmeriCorps members housed within the School, Ashley Grace and Kelsey Daniels, to plan and coordinate the classroom enrichment activities.

“The proof of the program’s impact can be seen on the kids’ faces,” Tom Poe, director of nuclear operations, chairperson for the Steering Group and co-chair for the “STEAM Ahead” program, said. “They are engaged and are really getting a better understanding of STEAM careers and the extensive possibilities that are available. If we can make a difference in even one student’s future, then we had a positive impact on the community.”

Promoting citizen science and rich data

Every year, the Voinovich School welcomes OHIO students from all majors to apply for competitive spots as Voinovich Undergraduate Research Scholars. These scholars select their focus area based on interests, and many of them choose to do hands-on research as part of the environmental and energy team at the School. Scholars are real contributors to project work and research activity.

Bowman presented a workshop at the 2022 Annual Environmental Education Council of Ohio (EECO) Conference, and she invited scholar Maya Clouse-Henry to co-present. The duo introduced the “My Backyard Stream” program, a citizen science volunteer monitoring program, and discussed common issues facing Ohio waterways. Attendees got to go outside to learn water testing techniques and how to track their own findings through the “My Backyard Stream” website.

“[Our presentation] encouraged the participants to use our kits and online data platform to track their findings in their own towns or classrooms,” Clouse-Henry said. “The more people using this website, the better our database gets. The encouragement of citizen science is the most important takeaway in this project.”

Inspiring tomorrow’s scientists and environmental leaders

Does plant waste or cow manure produce more energy? Which commercial water bottle’s pH is best for human consumption? Would a solar panel be more effective if it rotated instead of being fixed?

Ohio students in grades 5-12 have interesting questions about science and the environment, and the Voinovich School funds, rewards, and helps create programming to be sure resources and inspiration abound for young people interested in environmental topics.

"The Southeast Ohio Regional Science and Engineering Day and District 12 Science Day is an opportunity for students in seven Southeast Ohio counties to discover inquiry-based science projects and present them to judges from across the University,” said Natalie Kruse, director of the Environmental Studies Program at the Voinovich School. “The students who earn superiors at our fair qualify for State Science Day and we send one student to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. The students are creative and thorough, and it is exciting, as a District 12 Science Day alum, to see the incredible future scientists of Southeast Ohio."

Providing teacher support and mentorship is an important part of this work, and the Voinovich School doesn’t do it alone. Partners and joint funding sources come from all over OHIO and include the College of Arts and Sciences, the Research Office, the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, and the College of Health Sciences and Professions – all supported by generous funding from the Voinovich School’s Appalachian New Economy Partnership (ANEP) and the Department of Energy.

This year, The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service awarded three students at the Southeast Ohio Regional Science and Engineering Fair and District 12 Day for their projects dedicated to environmental science. 

The American Electric Power (AEP) Science Award gives $100 to three students for their projects. The awards given by the Voinovich School are made possible through the AEP Ohio Fund of the Columbus Foundation. 

The American Electric Power (AEP) Science Award Winners

·      Hanano Austin, Plains Intermediate School, Grade 6

·      Allison Payton, Zane Trace Middle School, Grade 8

·      Sam Byrd, Bishop Flaget, Grade 8

Austin’s project involved a self-rotating solar panel that would increase the amount of power generated, when compared to typical fixed rooftop panels. 

Payton’s Water Bottle Battle compared the total dissolved liquids and pH of various commercial water bottles to see which one was best for consumption. She concluded that spring water was the best for consumption with the highest pH and second highest total dissolved liquids. 

“Does plant waste or cow manure produce more energy?” was the title of Byrd’s project. They used microbial fuel cells with cow manure and plant material to compare energy production from each to see which generated more. On average, they discovered that cow manure produced more energy than plant material. 

“Congratulations to all three science fair winners on their research and interest in environmental science,” Bowman said. “Encouraging and inspiring the next generation of scientists and leaders is an important part of the work we do at the Voinovich School, and we are thrilled to have so many wonderful community partners to be able to do it.”

At-a-glance: A look at Voinovich community impact through grant-funded environmental programming

Focus area: Renewable energy waste streams

Grant Funding: Constellation’s E2 Energy to Education Program supports projects designed to enhance students’ understanding of science and technology and inspire them to think differently about energy.

Community Impact: Constellation funding will help create an online lesson for the web-based Appalachian STEM Enrichment Academy about the lifecycle of energy development, addressing impacts like minimizing waste through “circular economy” principles. The lesson will engage local STEM teacher, Jenni Domo, director of Unioto Chillicothe Elementary’s SCOPES (Science Co Operative of Physicians and Elementary Students) Academy and her students in the development and testing of the lesson. Related hands-on activities will be presented at the annual DOE Science Alliance in Piketon in the fall, an event that often reaches 1500 area high school students.

Focus area: Elementary school science enrichment

Grant Funding: Funding for the Voinovich School’s participation in the STEAM Ahead science enrichment programming comes from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office PORTSfuture Program in partnership with the AEP Ohio Fund of the Columbus Foundation.

Community Impact: Hands-on, STEM enrichment programming reaches multiple first- through fifth-grade students in Ohio in partnership with Fluor and local teachers. The Voinovich School also collaborates with AmeriCorps members create watershed and stream-related activities and programming.

Focus area: Ohio’s waterways

Grant Funding: “My Backyard Stream” is co-funded through a grant from the Ohio Environmental Education Fund at Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, American Electric Power Ohio Fund of the Columbus Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office, Ohio STEM Learning Network, and the Voinovich School.

Community Impact: Voinovich School-led workshop at the 2022 Annual Environmental Education Council of Ohio Conference to demonstrate the value of citizen science and discuss issues impacting Ohio’s waterways. The “My Backyard Stream” project brings STEM opportunities to local schools and families through the Ohio Museum Complex and partnering organizations across Ohio. Visit www.watersheddata.com to learn more.

Focus area: Youth science pathways

Grant Funding: The American Electric Power (AEP) Science Award gives $100 to three students for their science projects. The awards given by the Voinovich School are made possible through the AEP Ohio Fund of the Columbus Foundation. 

Community Impact: Students in middle school get opportunities to pose research questions, make discoveries, and create hands-on projects that explore environmental and energy topics. The Voinovich School’s faculty and staff contribute to these enrichment opportunities and are able to offer incentives and rewards, such as the AEP Science Award, through generous funding partnerships and collaborations – all to inspire young people with an interest in science.

Learn more about the Voinovich School’s energy and environmental projects and partnerships and how they directly impact local communities.

Claire Schiopota, Voinovich Undergraduate Research Scholar, contributed to research and writing for this article.