Nancy Stalik works with students for the wind-design challenge

Friends of the Rappahannock was recently recognized for its exemplary STEM environmental education program in the state of Virginia. Nancy Stalik, FOR’s Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) Coordinator and Environmental Educator, was recognized with the “Programs that Work” award by the Virginia Mathematics and Science Coalition (VMSC).

The VMSC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving excellence in Virginia’s K-12 and higher education students. Each year the VMSC recognizes exemplary mathematics, science, integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs for which there is evidence of a positive impact on student or teacher learning.

Nancy Stalik has been developing an environmental STEM (E-STEM) program over the last few years. It is an amazing program that puts the engineering in STEM and gets kids creating prototypes to solve real environmental problems. There truly isn’t anything like it, and Nancy is the pioneer of this program!

Nancy believes these lessons bring into focus the impact humans have on the world. She said, “We strive to show students that not all human impact is negative. Our E-STEM challenges students to create and build their solutions to real world environmental problems such as high water turbidity and the effects of energy production. It’s great to see the kids get excited to build their designs and empowered to see their solutions working.”

Nancy demonstrates the paddle boat challenge

Nancy shared that, “We always leave students with the thought that if their solution to the given E-STEM challenge doesn’t work the way they wanted, they should not give up, but keep designing better solutions. Just as with every challenge in life!” 

The concept for an E-STEM program at FOR began when George Meadows, a professor in the College of Education at the University of Mary Washington, requested help designing lessons for Makerspace programs that incorporated environmental education. With the Makerspace element, these programs needed to focus on building, constructing and making. Daria Christian, FOR Assistant Director and Education Director, said “When you combine environmental education with the Maker movement, you get environmental engineering. I knew Nancy had the knowledge set and mindset to bring this all together and create these award-winning lessons. I am so proud of Nancy’s work and the impact of our E-STEM program!”  

George Meadows, an inspiration for the program, has worked with FOR for several years in a number of capacities. He said, “I believe FOR’s work in integrating environmental education and STEM to be groundbreaking work in the area of environmental education. STEM education has certainly received a good deal of publicity over the last few years, but FOR’s program is one of the first to apply what we’ve learned about STEM teaching to the critical area of environmental education. FOR educators are developing teaching strategies that have students using technology in combination with engineering and design skills to produce machines that will aid in keeping streams and rivers clean.”

Nancy expects to reach 2,500 students through the E-STEM program in 2019.

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