Multi-Million Dollar Grant Puts University of Idaho Scientists in Idaho-WA Schools to Enhance Water Resources Education

Tuesday, April 28 2009

April 27, 2009

MOSCOW, Idaho – The University of Idaho has received a $2.94 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a water resources project that connects the research community with middle and high school classrooms in rural northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

The five-year project pairs graduate-level research scientists with middle and high school science teachers to enhance education on water resources through new classroom activities, workshops and field projects. Ten teachers in Moscow, Genesee, Troy, Potlatch, Lapwai, Garfield-Palouse (Wash.) and Pullman (Wash.) school districts will work with the graduate student research scientists each year, reaching a total of about 3,000 middle and high school students.

The program, spearheaded by the University of Idaho's Waters of the West (WoW) program, emphasizes collaboration in classrooms and in field projects at water basins. Science topics will be linked to local and regional water resource topics, such as aquifer depletion or the politics of salmon, dams and Indian Tribes.

Ten science or engineering graduate students will receive $30,000 fellowships each academic year from the grant, awarded under the NSF Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) Program, according to project leader Barbara Williams. Williams is a key member of WoW, the university's Blue Ribbon graduate education and research program, and a faculty member in the department of biological and agricultural engineering.

William's project team at Idaho includes co-principal investigators Jerine Pegg, assistant professor, College of Education; Paul Allan, WoW; and Jan Boll, WoW director. Allan is the project's administrative director, Pegg is the education specialist and Boll is the senior science adviser. Pegg and Allan will guide graduate student scientists in the development of age-appropriate lessons for their classes, meet with grad students and teachers to assess and oversee project work, visit classrooms to observe and more.

Graduate students in the WoW program are being given priority status for the fellowships. Students will also come from two other interdisciplinary programs: Environmental Science and Environmental Engineering.

“This project will help graduate students learn how to talk about complex scientific concepts in a way that is meaningful to lay people or people from other disciplines,” said Williams. “Because scientists, generally speaking, do not communicate well with people outside their peer group, this is a critical skill. It’s particularly needed to improve communication between scientists and the lay public."

The WoW program is responding to a worldwide need for professionals who can help resolve water resource management problems involving the perspectives of different disciplines. The program received $1.6 million in start-up funding over five years from the University of Idaho as one of its Blue Ribbon initiatives launched in 2006. “WoW, environmental science and environmental engineering students are being trained on campus to work in interdisciplinary environments among peers,” said Boll, “while this project will train them to communicate and collaborate more effectively with nonscientists and other scientists.”

Middle and high school students also benefit, said Pegg. The aim, she said, is to build interest in science careers and for students to become more knowledgeable about the science associated with managing water resources.

“And let's not forget teachers, who win, too,” said Pegg. “We believe they will become more skilled in teaching and inspiring interest in science. They will also have experienced, practicing scientists helping in their classrooms – a boon for those in rural districts.”

The Science Mathematics Engineering Education Center (SMEEC) at Washington State University and the Palouse Discovery Science Center (PDSC), Pullman, Wash., are partners in the University of Idaho project. SMEEC is helping through equipment loans to participating schools, and PDSC is providing access to science demonstration equipment and outreach activities.

About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit

Media Contact: Cynthia (Sunni) Freyer, PR Director, Waters of the West, University of Idaho,, Cell Phone: 509-338-3943 / 24 Hr M-S

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit