Earthwatch Institute and Durfee Foundation Celebrate 25 Years of Empowering Teens in Conservation Science

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Fifty high school sophomores and juniors from Los Angeles are soon to embark on field research expeditions where they will help scientists tackle critical conservation challenges around the United States. They join the ranks of more than 1200 students who have been awarded fellowships since the inception of a partnership in 1990 between Earthwatch Institute and the LA-based Durfee Foundation.

Students participating on an Earthwatch IGNITE field research expedition take samples from the intertidal zone to better understand how climate change is affecting the area.

The IGNITE program entirely changed my life. It completely inspired me to become a scientist and without any exaggeration just made me excited to be alive.

Fifty high school sophomores and juniors from Los Angeles are soon to embark on field research expeditions where they will help scientists tackle critical conservation challenges around the United States. They join the ranks of more than 1200 students who have been awarded fellowships since the inception of a partnership in 1990 between Earthwatch Institute and the LA-based Durfee Foundation.

“We are excited to celebrate our 25-year anniversary with Durfee,” said Larry Mason, Earthwatch’s CEO. Earthwatch is a world leader in expedition science designed to advance conservation and promote sustainability. “We face tremendous challenges in science literacy, and it is always inspiring to hear the success stories flowing from this model program. The planet needs enterprising environmental stewards now more than ever – and the students get an experience of a lifetime.”

This year’s students will spend two weeks working as research assistants for leading scientists studying intertidal communities in Maine, climate change and caterpillars in Nevada and Florida, sea level rise in Rhode Island and South Carolina, and waterbirds on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

“The main goal of this program is to immerse students in high-level science as it is actually practiced – and to get them to experience a radically different environment from their home and their schools,” said Michael Newkirk, Vice President of Durfee’s Board of Trustees. In 1990 Newkirk co-founded the program, which is now called IGNITE, with then executive director Robbie MacFarlane.

A program review showed that 78% of prior participants reported becoming more interested in science outside of the classroom. More than 50% went on to major in science, and an additional 32% reported pursuing science courses in college. “Our goal is not to crank out scientists, though that does happen,” said Newkirk.

One former student fellow said, “The IGNITE program entirely changed my life. It completely inspired me to become a scientist and without any exaggeration just made me excited to be alive. I am now majoring in molecular and cellular biology and am not at all intimidated by anything I encounter in the classroom or lab.”

An unconventional approach

The program intentionally targets creative students – not necessarily those who are strong in the sciences – and grades do not factor into the competitive application process.

“I’m really proud that our unconventional approach seems to just work,” said Newkirk, who personally reviews about 150 applications every year – whittled down from several hundred by Earthwatch.

While applicants from the broader US used to be eligible, the current program launched in 2012 and awards 50 students from Los Angeles County. “I’d really like to see other foundations and supporters help us propagate this program in other locations,” Newkirk said.

In addition to the cohort of 50 students, the Ignite program will also send ten high school science teachers from schools in Los Angeles County on an expedition to help scientists understand how climate change is affecting the Arctic. The program recognizes the importance for teachers to get out of the classroom to engage in field work and collegial exchange around best practices in science education.

Video: http://durfee.org/video/first-person/earthwatch-story/

The schools represented by this year’s student and teacher fellows include (in alphabetical order):
Abraham Lincoln High School, Alexander Hamilton Senior High, Alain Leroy Locke College Preparatory Academy, Alliance Environmental Science and Technology High School, Alliance Gert-Ressler High School, Alliance Alice M. Baxter College-Ready High School, Animo Venice Charter High School, Benjamin Franklin Senior High, California Academy of Mathematics and Science, Culver City High School, Diego Rivera Learning Complex, Downtown Magnets High School, Eagle Rock High School, Fairfax High School, Foshay Learning Center, Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High, Granada Hills Charter High School, Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy, Larchmont Charter School, Mira Costa High School, Nathaniel Narbonne High School, North Hollywood High School, Oakwood School, Opportunities for Learning, Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter High School, Palisades Charter High School, Palos Verdes High School, Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, Redondo Union High School, Renaissance Arts Academy, Santa Monica High School, South Gate High School, Sun Valley Magnet School, Synergy Quantum Academy, Temple City High, The Buckley School, Valencia High School, Van Nuys Senior High, West Adams Preparatory High School, West Covina High School

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Earthwatch Institute (earthwatch.org) is an international nonprofit organization that connects citizens with scientists to improve the health and sustainability of the planet. Since its founding in 1971, Earthwatch has empowered nearly 100,000 volunteers from all walks of life to join leading scientists on field research expeditions that tackle critical environmental challenges around the globe – from climate change to ocean health, human-wildlife conflict, and more. Earthwatch works with all sectors of society, from corporations to teachers, students, community leaders, zoos and aquaria, and more.

The Durfee Foundation (durfee.org) is a family foundation supporting individuals and organizations in Los Angeles County. The Foundation is named in honor of the late Dorothy Durfee Avery who, with her husband, the late R. Stanton Avery, established it in 1960. Since that time, the Foundation has awarded more than $35 million in grants.

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