Research Field Science Program at  McKeesport Area High School

Research Field Science Program at McKeesport Area High School

Headwaters completed a very successful Introduction to Research Field Science Program at McKeesport Area High School with 30 10th-12th grade environmental science and biology students! The program aims to foster scientific inquiry and hands-on learning experiences for students and 100% of students reported that they gained new skills in problem-solving during this program. 

On Tuesday, April 9th, students engaged in a preparatory session with Headwaters, focusing on question formulation and methods development in anticipation of their field day. Divided into five groups, students crafted research inquiries ranging from the effects of total dissolved solids on amphibians to the impact of human interaction on biodiversity.

The following day, Wednesday, April 10th, students embarked on a field trip to Cedar Creek Park in Belle Vernon, PA. The students went to the field despite recent rainfall and the remnants of flooding. They demonstrated remarkable dedication to field data collection, and most groups surpassed their data collection goals! With enthusiasm and resilience, they navigated muddy terrain, fell in the creek at times, and to their surprise even encountered frogs and salamanders. All the groups were trying to better understand the plants and animals in the park and the effects of human activity on the ecosystem. 

Back in the classroom on April 11th, students analyzed their data and presented their findings to peers. Notable discoveries included the relationship between light exposure and tree size, the correlation between water speed and amphibian populations, and the influence of human activity on biodiversity.

Impressed by their students’ achievements, Marla Hayes, their teacher, commended their commitment to scientific exploration. The program also benefited from the invaluable support of mentors from Seton Hill University, Duquesne University, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, who shared their expertise in ecology and environmental science with the students.  One student said, “I thought it was really cool how we got to go out and collect real data, using professional tools. Our instructors were very helpful with problem solving.”  100% of the students reported they learned something they wouldn’t have normally learned in class. 

“This was the first time any of these students had been to Cedar Creek Park, and most reported a heightened interest in science and nature,” Meg Seifert, Headwaters Science Institute ED said.

One student said, “I enjoyed the freedom we had when we were in person collecting data. It made me feel very capable.” Headwaters looks forward to continuing to inspire future generations of scientists!

I enjoyed the freedom we had when we were in person collecting data. It made me feel very capable.

McKeesport Student

Headwaters Science Institute is thankful to Nature’s Way, the Tuscano Agency, the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies, and local donors for their generous contributions, and to Cedar Creek Park for their help planning the program and providing a great field space for the students. Without all of this support this program would not have been possible. By providing students with firsthand experiences in nature, the program aims to ignite a lifelong passion for science and environmental stewardship.

Meg Seifert

Meg Seifert

Executive Director

October Introduction to Research at Davis Creek

October Introduction to Research at Davis Creek

Early in October, we spent part of Washoe County’s fall break with a group of students at our Introduction to Research Camp. These students are from the Reno/Carson area, and they came to Davis Creek Regional Park to learn about science, and conduct research. 

Campers used the forest at Davis Creek Regional Park for inspiration as they came up with research questions for the weekend.

This program was funded by a grant from Bass Pro Shop and Cabelas. Offering camps and other programs at a low cost is made possible through grants like this, and we are grateful to Bass Pro Shop and Cabelas for funding this camp and helping us reach more students. 

We had beautiful early fall weather, and the streams in the park were still flowing, inspiring students to come up with questions on a variety of topics. One group spent the weekend filtering water and measuring pH and total dissolved solids to test water quality, while another group tested fertility of soil at different distances from water sources. The third group was interested in how sunlight affects soil moisture and pH, and what impact that might have on plants. Facilitating this exploration and curiosity in students at a park close to where they all live can be especially impactful because they can bring their findings and knowledge back to their homes and continue to make connections in their own environment. 

Campers Kris and Noah are hard at work collecting data.

After finishing a full day of data collection, campers relaxed by the pond and looked for fish and birds.

Campers Audrey, Marshall, and Maggie are hard at work collecting data.

We spent the evenings telling stories and eating s’mores around a campfire, and showcasing the students’ talents at a talent show. These fun and community building aspects of camp were reflected in conversations with students at the end of the weekend with one student expressing that “my favorite part of camp was meeting new friends” before adding “collecting data was fun too.” The groups presented their findings to their parents at the end of the weekend, and all the students were excited to share their findings, as well as tell their parents stories from the weekend. Students shared that they “learned about the steps to come up with a good answer to a question”, and that “science is about more than just testing things, there’s a lot of steps to it”. 

Morgan Long

Morgan Long

Program Manager

Virtual Field Notes From Headwaters’ Research Experience and Digital Data Science Camp

Virtual Field Notes From Headwaters’ Research Experience and Digital Data Science Camp

Summer Research Experience

For eight weeks this summer, 26 students participated in the Headwaters Summer Research Experience, going through the scientific process. With topics ranging from electric vehicles to ant behavior, these students worked hard all summer long to create some fascinating, complex topics! Students pursued topics they were passionate about for one reason or another

I wanted to be able to study something I am passionate about, which is dance

My family has been impacted by Lyme Disease and that really drives this research

Students worked closely with Headwaters through class and office hours and were guided by professional science mentors who bring expertise and experience to working with students.

It was wonderful to provide high school students with the opportunity to create, design, conduct, and write up a scientific research project. Students were equipped with knowledge regarding research questions given their environment and accessible materials. With creativity and patience, students examined databases, water sources, air quality, and many other topics throughout their local areas. Throughout the data collection process students traveled within their home areas to measure plant density, survey college students, and study microbiological growth in petri dishes. These students ran the gambit for topics, creating captivating and significant data that was later analyzed through Data Classroom.

As the course came to an end, students finished writing their manuscripts and worked on presentations that they gave to their peers, mentors, Headwaters staff, parents, and friends. Our presentation nights were all lively and students did a fantastic job presenting virtually and fielding questions from the audience. Students worked hard to ensure their science communication skills were as effective as their data collection and research question development skills.

At least 12 of these students are going to pursue publishing their research project with the Journal of Emerging Investigators!

One student works on mapping domestic cats to understand exercise impacts. 
As part of a microbiology project, this student meticulously creates her different replicates. 
One student is doing research on the impact of tannins on plants.
Searching for microplastics, this student was able to borrow a microscope from a local school.  

Digital Data Science Camp

The digital data camp was held for the first time in August. Over the course of two weeks, students learned several objectives pertaining to data science and how it impacts their daily lives. From the beginning, students learned what data science is, what career opportunities there may be, and how it impacts their everyday lives. We discussed forms of artificial intelligence that they may interact with on a daily basis including Siri, Alexa, or other voice command AI bots. Students were surprised to learn that data scientists can be found in almost every field from medical science to non-profit organizations! After identifying fields they might be interested in the future, we discussed how data science will play a role in that industry as well. Students shared how they were surprised to know that there were so many different opportunities in the world of data science, no matter their passions.

Students learned to code, walking through this new tool to flex their data visualization muscles, and create graphs and graphics showing different realities from their datasets. Students took the reins in the second week as they identified topics to explore and present.

Students chose topics from fintech to automated driving and began searching for open-source databases to pull CSV (comma-separated values) tables. While working on individual student projects students learned about their specific topic, and how data science impacts that industry. Identifying safe, reliable, complete, open-source databases proved difficult, but students persevered. They worked hard to identify proper questions, databases, and analyses that provided insightful data visualizations for their mini-presentations. This was another fantastic group of students who were dedicated to learning and capped off a wonderful program with a great presentation night!

Watch all of the students’ presentations!

Sign Up the Spring Research Experience

We’re excited to have a new cohort of students pursuing research topics in the spring and you can be one of them!

Courtney Kudera

Courtney Kudera

Data Analyst and Research Experience Manager

Courtney is the Data Analyst and Research Experience Manager. A recent graduate from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she is excited to share her passion for science and data knowledge with Headwaters. Originally from Wyoming, she is excited to make an impact in science education at Headwaters. In her free time, she can be found trail running, painting, doing yoga, or reading.

McKeesport High School Program Reflection

McKeesport High School Program Reflection

I’m ecstatic to share the success of our recent program held in a community close to my heart. As a proud McKeesport High School alumnus and native of Grandview, McKeesport, I was honored to give back to the students of the community with a Headwaters experience. I believe in the enriching science experiences that we are able to provide through Headwaters programs, which is why I reached out to Marla Hayes, one of my former biology teachers, about bringing this opportunity to McKeesport!

For me, science isn’t just about reading information from a textbook. It’s the process of assessing information and empowering oneself with a data-driven approach to tackle the world around us. I always had a knack for memorizing information, which allowed me to excel in school, but learning how to apply the scientific method to everyday life was a game-changer.

The students at McKeesport were able to learn about the subject matter and develop critical thinking skills in the course of the program. Teachers are faced with the large task of engaging students in science. This can be overwhelming, especially with a lack of resources or support. Luckily, Headwaters is here to help and I was excited to facilitate this program that pairs classroom materials with a field experience that brings science to life for the McKeesport students. We take students’ natural curiosity and we explore the scientific process in new ways and that makes science approachable. Science not only prepares these students for research, but it prepares them for the real world.

It’s always rewarding to guide students through the process of science, nurture their curiosity, and promote critical thinking. And being able to bring a Headwaters program to my hometown made it even more special! These McKeesport students were all smiles, enthusiasm, and engagement and some of them will join the next generation of problem solvers and future innovators! 

Students really enjoyed the program and also expressed that they grew more confident in science!

  • 100.00% of students reported being more familiar with scientific research.
  • 81.25% of students reported an increase in confidence when analyzing a given set of data.
  • 93.75% agreed that they learned something they would not have in a traditional classroom
  • 86.67% reported enjoying science more after participating in the program.
  • 86.67% reported having a satisfying experience in our program.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies, Nature’s Way Markets, and the Tuscano Agency for helping to fund programs that empower our youth and to, Powdermill Nature Reserve for providing a unique location to collect field data. We couldn’t do this work without you and all our Pennsylvania donors, so thank you for helping us shape the future.

Remember, if you would like to learn more about our programs or get involved, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re always excited to connect with individuals and organizations passionate about science education and empowering the next generation of innovators. 

Dan Dudek

Dan Dudek

Research Experience and Data Manager

Students Explore the Importance of Water

Students Explore the Importance of Water

The importance of water should never be understated! It is a vital component of all life-sustaining processes and integral to chemical reactions. The human body is made of up nearly 60-70% water by body weight, with a decrease of 4% causing dehydration and losses of 15% becoming life-threatening or fatal. Drilling down further, water is considered a universal solvent, it plays an important structural role in our cells as it regulates their shape based on water concentration in various environments and facilitates biochemical reactions by being directly involved in dehydration synthesis and hydrolysis reactions. And this is only at the cellular level. As water crises and droughts highlight the lack of consistent water access around the globe, we know that water is essential for life.  

Our Headwaters Research Experience students recognize the importance of water quality to aquatic systems, and we help students create projects centered around the analysis of water quality in their neighborhoods and watersheds. These types of water quality studies are simple to conduct, but can yield impactful results  and raise awareness among local community members. 

Ethan Liu was curious about water in NYC and focused on comparing water quality between the neighborhoods of Chinatown and Bayside, which have a sizable difference in average household income. Ultimately, Ethan found that there was no significant difference in pH or total dissolved solids (TDS, like inorganic salts and some organic matter) for water sampled from restaurants in these regions. Ethan, and the community members who allowed him to sample their water, were reassured by his findings.

Ethan’s presentation is the first of our student presentations featured here if you’d like to learn more:

Katie Chen wanted to research the effects of fertilizer on the water quality of Saratoga Creek. Many land managers use fertilizers to increase crop yields, but nitrogen runoff can cause significant damage to the watershed and harm water quality in the area. Through her experimental research design, Katie found that the fertilizer significantly reduced the pH and increased the TDS of Saratoga Creek water. Katie did a great job designing, conducting, and analyzing her research and the Journal of Emerging Investigators accepted her write up for publication!

Read Katie’s paper here!

This week for Headwaters’ Back to School Fundraiser, we’re highlighting water! Donating to Headwaters helps us plan and run the Research Experience and students like Ethan and Katie pursue projects that impact their communities and contribute to science. Your support also helps us provide Lunch with a Scientist talks, like Dr. Tonya Shearer’s on coral reef health, to students around the country. Thank you!