By Lee Sherman

In Brief

Whether identifying fish or monitoring water quality, students combine education with service through OSU’s Oregon Natural Resources Education Program.  Through partnerships with local watershed councils and other agencies, students are making a difference.

Lifelong stewardship can begin as simply as a school project at a local stream.

That’s what happened when Philomath High School student Colby Davidson conducted a fish study for his senior thesis. An average student who wasn’t accustomed to accolades, he was as surprised as his teachers when he discovered six native species previously unknown in Newton Creek – and then won a national conservation award from the National Wildlife Federation. Now, three years later, he remains vigilant and active in local watershed issues.

Stories like this drive and inspire OSU’s Oregon Natural Resources Education Program (ONREP). Based in the College of Forestry, the Extension program’s mission statement – “to prepare educators to inspire natural resources learning and experiences so that students make informed decisions, exhibit responsible behavior, and take constructive action for Oregon’s natural resources” – captures its community-service thrust.

Building Skills

Through ONREP’s Teachers as Researchers project, kids get initiated to service learning with a foundation in rigorous classroom instruction. “Authentic field investigations start with skill-building, such as graphing pollution data or identifying Northwest invertebrates,” notes ONREP Director Susan Sahnow.

It then spills across local landscapes as teachers lead students into woodlands and riparian zones to study the natural resources that define the places they call home.

Finally, by forging partnerships with local watershed councils and other agencies, teachers and students embark on research-based projects that enhance their neighborhoods, forests and watersheds in tangible ways.

The key message for students is, “If we don’t take care of our stream, who’s going to do it?” says teacher and ONREP participant Jeff Mitchell. “They learn to care about their own community by doing meaningful community service.”

Lee Sherman is a writer for the Oregon State University Extension Service. This article was reprinted from the OSU website at http://oregonstate.edu/leadership/presidentsreport/2009/fall/discovery-leads-service