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Channeling Water Connections

Extension Educator Brings Water Lessons to Life for Students of All Ages

On the banks of the Spokane River, Jim Ekins can hear excited murmurs as he pulls a crayfish from the water. Students gather in to get a closer look at the ecosystem of their hometown.

“A lot of these students don’t come from a background like mine,” Ekins said. “Watching them open their eyes and seeing that lightbulb go on over their head? That’s really powerful.”

As the area water educator with University of Idaho Extension, Ekins’ goal is to spark curiosity. Whether it’s here at the river with dozens of high school students, leading a stormwater erosion protection class with contractors, sharing professional development with teachers or guiding one of his summer interns, he hopes to inspire as much as educate.

“Jim is one of the best mentors I have ever had,” said Toni Eells, ’21, a 2019 Extension intern. “He’s fantastic about explaining concepts in a way that make sense for any knowledge level, and he’s always happy, kind and willing to help.”

Jim Ekins stands at a table in a park holding a water net while talking to students out of the frame.
UI Extension Educator Jim Ekins instructs Lakeland High School students at Hauser Lake Park.

In His Nature

Before he could walk, Ekins’ parents had him floating the rivers of Florida in a canoe and splashing in the Atlantic Ocean. Soon after, he was learning the basics of land management as a volunteer with the Florida Trail Association. These days marked the beginning of a lifelong love for all things outdoors and ultimately set him down the path that would lead to becoming a UI Extension educator.

“People have questions and communities have needs,” Ekins said. “It is our role to connect people to the knowledge within the university.”

One of the avenues for sharing that knowledge is The Confluence Project (TCP), a year-long program connecting hundreds of North Idaho high school students with hands-on water science.

“I get to show students that science doesn’t just happen with beakers and a lab coat,” Ekins said. “You can be a scientist who spends your days going into streams or the woods and collecting data.”

A young Jim Ekins looks at the camera while rowing a canoe down a river in Florida.
Ekins spent his childhood navigating the waters in his home state of Florida.

Passing It On

When she was a high school student, Eells studied the impact of stormwater on her hometown of St. Maries during the independent research portion of TCP.

“That sparked a curiosity about water that carried through my college years,” Eells said. “Now I work as an environmental technician while getting my master’s degree with a focus in water quality. TCP helped steer my life in this direction.”

Through TCP field trips and the water science fair, students like Emma Arman, ’21, also experienced those lightbulb moments.

“The Confluence Project pulled me in,” Arman said. “That’s when I realized I wanted to be involved in environmental science all the time.”

Like Eells, Arman followed her experience with TCP by pursuing an environmental science degree at U of I in Moscow, then came full circle to work as an Extension intern with Ekins.

“I got to go all over Idaho leading camps and teaching kids about water quality and the aquifer,” Arman said. “Jim made all of these experiences possible and connected me with professional contacts from Spokane to Boise. You can’t get any of that in the classroom.”

Arman and Eells are gems in the rock collection of Ekins’ career, but he says some of his most important work is seen in more subtle ways.

“The students we get are bright, motivated and ready to learn, and we challenge them,” Ekins said. “Even if they don’t go into science, we want them to be science literate. One way or another, they’re going to help make decisions for the world, and it feels great to be creating stewards of our lands.”

Article by Katie Marshall, University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene

Published November 2021

Two side-by-side photos of Toni Eells holding up one finger in each photo. The left photo is with her science fair board in 2015. In the right photo she stands behind a sign reading “Welcome to the Youth Water Summit.”
Toni Eells earned first place at the 2015 Youth Water Summit. She returned to support the conference as a UI Extension intern in 2019.
Emma Arman stands behind a table outside, talking to a group of young campers all with their backs to the camera.
UI Extension Intern Emma Arman leads a water lesson with campers at the Coeur d’Alene Harbor Center.

University of Idaho Extension

Physical Address:
E. J. Iddings Agricultural Science Laboratory, Room 52
606 S Rayburn St.
Moscow, ID

Mailing Address:
University of Idaho Extension
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2338
Moscow, ID 83844-2338

Phone: 208-885-5883

Fax: 208-885-6654


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Barbara Petty