Urban wetland fosters an early appreciation for science, nature

Students at Tres RiosFor the past few years, ASU has been conducting studies at the Tres Rios wetlands, a facility constructed by the City of Phoenix as an alternative to traditional wastewater treatment. Researchers want to know how successfully these man-made wetlands provide ecosystem services like wildlife habitat and water treatment in an arid landscape. One goal of this research initiative is providing environmental education to high school and college students. “In this project we’ve got students doing both lab work and field work, and that is pretty unusual,” says Dan Childers, the director for ASU's Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research and principal investigator. In June, Ariah Evans, Aunese Evans, and Daniel Loza joined Childers and ASU’s Wetland Ecosystem Ecology Lab (WEEL) group to work on a plant decomposition study at Tres Rios. As part of their work, they measured greenhouse gas emissions, plant growth, and water evaporation. The three students come from two Phoenix high schools and are part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Assistantships for High School Students (RAHSS) program. Two undergraduate students assisting the Tres Rios research are funded through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. Chris Sanchez, a junior at the University of Miami studying anthropology and environmental sciences, says he can better prepare the high school students because he participated in the RAHSS program when he was in high school. Sanchez mentors the students with another undergraduate, Nich Weller, a senior in ASU’s School of Sustainability studying urban ecosystems. Weller says there is constant collaboration with the high school students. “They always have questions for us, and oftentimes we have questions for them,” Weller says. “It’s sort of ad hoc learning as you go.” In the end, Childers hopes that the Tres Rios research gives all the students a learning experience that can’t compare to others. “I think, fundamentally, what I would like to know is that the process of what we went through this summer has given them an opportunity to think a little more critically and creatively on their own and recognize there’s a big picture to everything,” he says. Read more » Watch the video »