We don’t know about you, but the next generation getting involved in the sciences gives us so much hope. And that’s exactly what’s happening at the Hudson River Research Reserve as part of the Institute Discovering Environmental Scientists (TIDES) program, a fully supported research opportunity that makes it possible for high school and college students and high school teachers of all economic backgrounds to participate. “The program makes up for any lost income from summer jobs and also offers transportation,” says Maija Niemisto, education specialist at the Hudson River Estuary Program. “This ensures that the participants are truly representative of our communities.”
Now in its fourth year, the program’s outreach and interview process is designed to be inclusive. Rather than judging applicants primarily on previous exposure to research programs, they select candidates that are enthusiastic about science and may not have participated in something like this before.
The two-week program gives students the opportunity to see if they like science by including them in ongoing research projects and giving them projects of their own. As a team, they identify research questions and hypotheses related to the Hudson River, collect and analyze data, and present their findings to the community.
“We try to put agency in the hands of the students,” says Niemisto. “Instead of memorizing facts, we encourage them to ask questions and figure out how to answer them. It’s not just about discovering the environmental sciences; it’s about discovering themselves as scientists.”
One participant described how they “…learned and refined my skills in data collection, data analysis, collaboration, and creating a scientific presentation.” Students also have discussions and read articles about sexism, racism, homophobia, and neurodiversity in the sciences.
Through their experience, students form relationships with people who can support them throughout their career, regardless of whether they decide to go into the sciences or not.
“A group of former TIDES participants applied to college together to have a social network going into school,” says Niemisto. “This makes it easier to move away from home and have a rewarding career.” As one participant emphasized, “My favorite part was being with a group of people that made me feel a part of something great.”
Many of the students come back for another year, creating mentorship roles and making the experience more meaningful for everybody. For those students who discover that science is not for them, “We also offer resources for other career paths,” says Niemisto.
Participating teachers act as chaperones, benefit from professional development opportunities, and often serve as a connection to the next generation of TIDES participants.
Partners of the TIDES program include the Cary Institute, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Hudson River Estuary Program, and the Hudson River Research Reserve. They received funding this year from NEIWPCC.