published March 28, 2014

What's Happening in SENCER-ISE: Hamilton College & Green Science Policy Institute: a Cross-Continental Collaboration

Hailey Chenevert, NCSCE

The SENCER-ISE partnerships are now deep into their projects using compelling civic issues to forge lasting and valuable connections between formal and informal science educators. To share the great work they are doing with our community, we have started a new feature for the eNews on partnership activities. To learn more about the initiative and the partnerships, visit the SENCER-ISE website, found here .

Hamilton College and Green Science Policy Institute (GSP) are partnering to develop research opportunities for undergraduate science students that meld analytical toxicology with public policy and civic engagement. Dr. Tim Elgren of Hamilton College, and Dr. Arlene Blum and Ms. Avery Lindeman of GSP, have transformed Dr. Elgren's existing Introduction to Chemistry course into a toxicology lab, which includes civic engagement elements that provided students with opportunities to share their findings with the public.

Unlike the other SENCER-ISE partnerships, which are between local organizations and institutions, the Hamilton College (Clinton, NY) and GSP (Berkeley, CA) partnership is unique in that the partners are based thousands of miles apart. Despite the distance and time difference, Hamilton College and GSP have created a successful partnership and lab course that examines broader impacts for chemistry students.

The partnership's use of technology has allowed Dr. Blum and Ms. Lindeman to become involved "remotely" but directly in the course and the students' learning. WebEx, a video conferencing service, is used throughout the course to maintain communication between GSP and the Hamilton students. Dr. Blum presents her lecture, Principles of Chemistry in the Context of Health and Environmental Chemistry, to the class using WebEx.

Dr. Blum and Ms. Lindeman also hold one-on-one meetings with students using the conferencing service. After making analytical measurements to quantify human exposure to various toxins found in common household products, the students develop projects to communicate their findings to the public, and receive individualized consultations from GSP before finalizing their projects and presenting them at "The Toxic Poster Session," held on campus.

The partners intend for students in future Introduction to chemistry courses to reach beyond the campus by communicating their results to decision makers in government, and industry and, through contacts with media, citizens in the public, who can make or ask for changes to protect the public's health and the environment.

Dr. Elgren says the partnership has been an extraordinary experience for both him, and the Hamilton students. Dr. Elgren explains, "The questions are beginning to extend beyond the simple act of measuring toxins to a broader consideration of the next important question, whether that be moving the science forward, considering the broader impact of the work and identifying important audiences that should be informed about the findings."

The partners are beginning to discuss how Hamilton College can assist GSP in their efforts to develop educational materials and curricula to help make it easier for educators to introduce these topics and strategies in their classroom.

To watch a recording of Dr. Blum's lecture, Principles of Chemistry in the Context of Health and Environmental Chemistry, click here.