2014 Research Report

Come see the many ways the U of I is inspiring discovery! More


“Like a tree, our research and curriculum is always growing and developing new branches that inspire kids and adults to explore,”
-Lee Vierling, MOSS executive director


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phone: 208-885-6689

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Mailing Address
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University of Idaho
Moscow, ID 83844-3010
Two young kids learning about nature

Inspiring Excitement about Science

Budding Student Scientists from Across Idaho Bloom in UI’s Outdoor Classroom


By Tara Roberts
Photos by UI Photo Services


Every year, more than 2,500 Idaho children transform into scientists on the shores of Payette Lake at the College of Natural ResourcesMcCall Outdoor Science School, or MOSS.

MOSS, founded in 2001, serves more than 40 Idaho communities, connecting K-12 students to UI research and sparking a love of science that extends beyond the classroom and into the world.

“What sets MOSS apart from many other outdoor discovery environments for kids is we integrate between the research environment of the university and the real-world exploration for kids and their parents and teachers,” says MOSS executive director Lee Vierling, an associate professor of forest, rangeland and fire sciences.

The 18 graduate students who live and work at MOSS each year alternate weeks between taking onsite environmental-education classes and implementing the concepts they’ve learned.

“They can immediately take those concepts and apply them to the outdoor classroom with kids and their teachers,” Vierling says. “Students who visit MOSS are getting fresh information that’s living and breathing. The kids become a key part of the discovery process.”

Alongside cutting-edge educational techniques, MOSS incorporates the latest scientific knowledge generated at UI into its programming. Young students might learn how UI researchers are turning timber into jet fuel, forecasting future water availability or flying unmanned aerial vehicles to study changing environments.

These experiences help children understand that science is a growing, changing entity – much like the enormous evergreen trees they measure, core and discuss while at MOSS.

“Like a tree, our research and curriculum is always growing and developing new branches that inspire kids and adults to explore,” Vierling says. “Kids realize it’s new and exciting. They find that science isn’t just from people who developed ideas yesterday. It’s alive today.”

And MOSS is growing and changing, too. Vierling says the program is looking to build new partnerships and attract students from across the Northwest and nationwide. The university is actively seeking donors to construct an entirely new campus, building on the 75-year legacy of the McCall Field Campus as both a summer forestry camp and outdoor science school to inspire the next generation of problem solvers and stewards.

MOSS also is developing new programs for K-12 students, college students and professionals. Its offerings include workshops online and on campus for the public, a summer institute for teachers and wilderness first responder courses.

One of MOSS’s newest ventures is Semester in the Wild, a College of Natural Resources program launched in August 2013. It brings 17 college students from around the country to MOSS and UI’s Taylor Wilderness Research Station to experience multidisciplinary research and classes in “America’s Wildest Classroom.”

MOSS’s efforts have paid off with national recognition. In 2013, the American Association of Public and Land-grant Universities named MOSS its W.K. Kellogg Foundation West Region winner for its success in creating a learning environment that promotes engagement and discovery in the community. The Kellogg award also made UI one of four finalists nationwide for the C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award, along with Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University and the University of Texas, El Paso.

“Winning the Kellogg award and being a Magrath finalist are huge honors that confirm the deep connections MOSS has made with partners across Idaho and the West. These partnerships inspire us to continue developing programs that make a difference,” Vierling says.