Verizon and MOSS help cultivate the next generation of STEM leaders

By on October 29, 2015

As high school students settle into their classrooms for a new year, one group from Idaho will have a leg up on their peers - at least in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses.

Every summer, the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS) from the University of Idaho’s College of Natural Resources takes in a group of high school students from Idaho and eastern Washington. Students travel from the University of Idaho campus in Moscow to the town of McCall for hands-on STEM classes as part of the Upward Bound Program.

During the two-week program, students are introduced to the history and ecology of the area through studies in hydrology, biodiversity, fire ecology, geology and remote sensing. Perhaps as importantly, they interact and bond with others who have similar interests in environmental science.

“I like the broad approach,” said one student about the topics covered. “I feel like I learn a lot more than in a normal science lab and can use the material more easily in my daily life.”

In 2015, the Verizon Foundation provided a grant to the MOSS program to fund staff salaries for six graduate students at the University of Idaho who run the program. The graduate students bring enthusiasm and a deep knowledge of the subject matter and serve as role models to the students.

The curriculum uses real world examples and projects. Students study the effects of fire on an ecosystem, or research animal habitats at a fish hatchery to weave together various aspects of science, math and other subjects. MOSS participants work with researchers, engineers, geologists and other professionals in STEM fields, posing research questions and collecting their own data. Students present their findings on the final day of the MOSS program.

The program breaks the barriers of a typical classroom, taking students to a nearby stream to test water quality or to a burn site to measure the impact of forest fires. By the end of the course, students not only have a better grasp of how STEM and related careers can help solve problems, but also a concrete understanding of how to work around obstacles and solving problems.

The MOSS program often engages students from rural, limited-income backgrounds. Many students aim to be the first college graduates in their families and have no prior learning experience away from home. The curriculum and educators help prepare them for a college-like atmosphere which allows them to be independent and self-reliant.

After the program, many students are better prepared for their science classes in the fall and feel confident going into college with this additional experience.

“I now know that I can handle college-level STEM courses. I thought I would be overwhelmed, and it’s hard, but I’m doing it,” said one MOSS student.

The Verizon Foundation is proud to invest in programs like MOSS that work to improve and retain interest in STEM for the next generation. MOSS Program Director Greg Fizzell said, “With help from Verizon, we’re able to put more resources towards the course and help more first generation students experience college.”

Learn more about the University of Idaho’s College of Natural Resources McCall Outdoor Science School by visiting http://www.uidaho.edu/cnr/moss