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UGA studies potential partnerships with industry to engage more students in STEM fields

 

Some of Avalon Krandac’s most enlightening moments as an undergraduate in the College of Engineering are outside the classroom.

Meeting professional engineers and working as an intern helps her better understand the academic lessons, which can be a challenge, and keep her on track. This summer she’s working at Lockheed Martin in Marietta, helping develop safety policies and environmental goals. She expects to graduate next year with a degree in biological engineering with an emphasis on the environment.

“Business engagement early on is really helpful,” Krandac said. “These experiences are super helpful in reinforcing why you should stick it out.”

David Tanner, an associate director at UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, is working alongside two other UGA units to find ways to engage businesses with higher education to help keep students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and to provide them the experience that the companies are looking for in graduates.

“Businesses want to be more engaged, but it’s not easy,” Tanner said. “What works for student persistence and keeps them energized? What can companies do to incentivize that?”

Using an interdisciplinary seed grant from the office of UGA President Jere Morehead, Tanner and colleagues Timothy Burg, director of the Office of STEM Education, and Karen Webber, an associate professor at the Institute of Higher Education, are developing a tool to help businesses make smart investment choices in higher education. They have convened focus groups over the last year to gather input from educators, administrators and business leaders. Those conversations across and between organizations are critical to figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution in the universe of STEM careers, but each company has unique experiences in recruiting talent to add to the conversation, said Amy Hutchins, education and workforce development manager at Georgia Power. Tanner and his team are helping bring those people together, she said.

“You can throw some logs across a river or you can work together to build a bridge to move massive amounts of people,” she said. “UGA brings experience and objectivity to something like this. We’re always interested in partnering for the greater good.”

Tanner has met a lot of business people through Jill Walton, executive director of UGA Corporate and Foundation Relations. Her connections have helped him gain valuable insight into the needs and observations of industry. His research could help her convince companies to invest in UGA students.

“We want to give companies a road map for how they can get involved, how their dollars can be used and how that might impact their recruitment efforts,” Walton said. “It’s hard to reach every company. A lot of times we have to focus our time and energy on the bigger companies. It would be great to have a standard toolkit to help with these decisions.”

The aim is to get kids interested in STEM fields in grade school and keep them engaged through college and into their career. That would be attractive for universities, students and businesses.

“If we can identify those good investments, we could increase the volume and quality of business engagement in STEM education,” Tanner said. “That could have a big impact on the STEM workforce in Georgia.”

 

Contact: David Tanner, dtanner@uga.edu, 706-583-0151

UGA installs first large-scale green infrastructure project in Brunswick

The area next to the soccer field at Brunswick’s Howard Coffin Park received a much-needed facelift in the form of native plants and new soil.

The 3,000-square-foot tract is a large scale stormwater demonstration project that UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant hopes will educate visitors on ways to improve water quality.

Jessica Brown, stormwater specialist at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, oversaw construction of the site, which is called, in technical terms, a bioretention cell.

“This project will serve as a case study and educational demonstration of a bioretention cell, which is a stormwater management practice that captures and treats runoff,” Brown says. “It’s a form of green infrastructure that helps protect and restore habitat by mimicking the natural water cycle.”

The bioretention cell, next to a tidal ditch, will act as a buffer for the park. When it rains, excess water from the soccer field will flow into the bioretention cell, which consists of layers of sandy soils, mulch and stone. Pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals applied to the playing field will be filtered out through these layers instead of running directly into the tidal creek.

With population growth and increased land development in coastal Georgia, the use of green infrastructure has become increasingly important because it protects water quality and coastal habitats from pollution.

Brown worked with the City’s Engineer, Garrow Alberson, to design the bioretention cell. City employees constructed the project.

Alberson hopes the project will raise public awareness of green infrastructure practices.

“It seems that a lot of developers and engineers are hesitant to implement these practices because of factors like cost, long-term maintenance and effectiveness,” he said. “Hopefully, the construction of the demonstration cell will show that these practices can be effective for runoff volume reduction and water quality improvement, and that the practices can be cost-effective to install.”

The final phase of the project involved installing native plants, selected by Keren Giovengo, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s EcoScapes program manager. The EcoScapes Sustainable Land Use program promotes responsible stewardship of natural resources in Georgia through sustainable land development and landscaping practices.

Keren Giovengo, EcoScapes program manager, demonstrates how to plant one of the native plants in the bioretention cell.

“Because of the size of the bioretention cell, I was able to consider a variety of trees, shrubs, grasses and palms for the site,” Giovengo says. “They were selected to provide a diverse array of local deciduous and evergreen species that are low maintenance and can tolerate drought, flooding and salt.”

Twelve students participating in a landscaping course through the Job Corps Center in Brunswick assisted with the planting.

Job Corps, a no-cost education and career technical training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, helps young people ages 16 to 24 improve the quality of their lives through career technical and academic training.

“They’re in our program for roughly eight months and we help them earn their high school diploma or learn a trade and become certified,” says Kevin Brandon, landscaping instructor at the Brunswick Job Corps Center.

“We look for as many hands-on opportunities like this as possible because our goal is to get them a job when they complete the course,” he says.

Thanks to help from the students, all 216 native plants were in the ground in less than four hours.

Brown plans to showcase the demonstration site to environmental professionals and public works staff in surrounding counties.

“My hope is that we can do enough demonstration projects, such as this one, to better understand how they perform in a coastal environment and build capacity within the local workforce,” says Brown. “Fostering ownership of these type of practices at the local level will go a long way to support future implementation.”

Writer: Emily Woodward, ewoodward@uga.edu, 912-598-2348