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YES Students Visit USGS Scientists' Offices in Woods Hole, MA

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Wylie Poag uses a shot from the movie Deep Impact to illustrate the results of a bolide impact
Wylie Poag uses a shot from the movie Deep Impact to illustrate the results of a bolide impact.

On Saturday, November 1, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)'s Woods Hole Science Center (WHSC) held an open house for a group of students, ages 14-17, from the Youth Enrichment Services (YES) in Boston.

This is the first time in the history of the USGS WHSC that students were brought into staff offices to get a firsthand look at how we spend our days. This outreach event was organized primarily by Glynn Williams, Erika Hammar-Klose, Chris Polloni, and Ellen Mecray.

YES was founded in 1968 by Richard Williams to offer a program of calm in tumultuous times. Initially, skiing was the avenue to teach kids responsibility and to engender trust. The focus was and is to show how success in one environment can translate into success in other environments. The program has expanded in size and application. Skiing is still the primary activity, but a broader exposure to different environments and issues has also been incorporated into the program.

The visit to the USGS was one of about 10 scheduled for the year, demonstrating various approaches to the respect, study, responsibility, and pleasure associated with the environment and the outdoors. Examples of other YES activities include flights over the kids' communities, a trip to the Boston Harbor Islands, and a bike trip through a habitat-restoration project.

We thought long and hard about how to organize this open house, and we were very pleased with the resulting schedule. The group of 12 students and staff, as well as a few USGS personnel, began the day with a name game. Given the festivities of the night before (Halloween), participants gave their names, described their favorite candy, and then told the group what they liked about it.

After much laughter and our perceived sugar high, everyone met in our conference room for an overview of the USGS WHSC. First, Ellen Mecray talked briefly about the different types of science our center conducts; then Wylie Poag spoke in depth about the Chesapeake Bay Bolide. This whiz-bang presentation captured the students' attention and engaged them. We then indulged in some cider and doughnuts!

After our time in the conference room, the students were divided into two groups and began a 10-minute rotation through each of 10 USGS WHSC staff offices. We created a matrix of groups and offices, with groups rotating through the building in counterclockwise order. The matrix was set up so that we could add groups of students, while keeping the total time required for office presentations constant. The students enjoyed the presentations and getting into people's actual offices. The following staff participated:

Seth Ackerman presented a 3D fly-through of sea-floor-habitat-mapping sites in the Gulf of Mexico.

Valerie Paskevich gave a presentation on geographic information systems (GIS) and the USGS' interactive map server.

Elizabeth Pendleton showed the students examples of coastal-vulnerability studies in national parks and discussed her intergovernmental research experience (working with the USGS and the National Park Service).

Chris Polloni showed the students how USGS scientists are mapping and visualizing the Puerto Rico Trench.

Jamey Reid gave a presentation on aggregates and GIS mapping.

Jianli Song gave the students a two-dimensional demonstration of fault movement (reverse, shear, and normal).

Ed Sweeney gave the students a sidescan-sonar data-processing demonstration.

Ann and Sarah Swift gave the students a seismic-data-processing demonstration.

Bill Waite, Brandon Dugan, Bill Winters, and Dave Mason showed the students the GHASTLI (Gas Hydrate and Sediment Testing Laboratory Instrument) and discussed gas hydrates.

Glynn Williams presented a geographic-map display of Boston, Falmouth, and some of the ski slopes used in the YES winter program.

At the end of the office presentations, we had lunch on the beach in the sunshine. After lunch, Erika Hammar-Klose gave a brief talk on the glacial history of the Woods Hole area, culminating in a walk down the bike path to Woods Hole.

Hovey Clifford of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) took us on a tour of WHOI's docks and the research vessel Oceanus. Our day both began and ended with a bang!

As we looked back at our outreach day, we came up with several recommendations that we hope will be useful to other USGS offices if they plan open houses of this type:

  • Limit the number of office visits to no more than 6; we found that 10 presentations were too many for the students to absorb.
  • Start off with an engaging presentation and have those following explain some of the concepts in greater detail.
  • Get the students involved in your office presentation; don't just have them look over your shoulder.
  • Get the students outside! Before beginning any afternoon programs, give participants some time to relax and roam.
  • Pick a common theme, such as the importance of detail, and have each office presentation include this theme.
  • Try to have a small scientist-to-student ratio, such as 2 to 3 students in each office at one time.
  • Designate a staff person to keep the kids moving, keep time, and be a resource for questions.
  • The students will be learning many new words during their visit to the USGS. As USGS personnel plan their office presentations, have them write lists (keep them short!) of terms and definitions. Compile these lists into a glossary for the day.
  • Keep the energy level high. You are asking the students to absorb a lot of information. Make sure that your presentation includes time to process and think!

Thanks to everyone who helped out to make this a special day!

Related Web Sites
Youth Enrichment Services (YES)
not-for-profit educational institution
Woods Hole Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The Chesapeake Bay Bolide: Modern Consequences of an Ancient Cataclysm
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Coastal and Marine Geology Program Internet Map Server
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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