DANBURY, CONN. — Dr. Theodora Pinou, professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences and faculty curator of the H. G. Dowling Herpetological Collection at Western Connecticut State University, runs “Finding Our Way,”an environmental STEM skills education program for middle school students.
After working with Pinou and “Finding Our Way,” Khushi Parikh, a student at Danbury’s Westside Middle School Academy, won first honors in biotechnology at the 2017 Connecticut Science & Engineering Fair for her project, “Pharmaceuticals In Our Water: How Can These Hazardous Chemicals Be Filtered?”Parikh also won a third-place trophy for overall Life Sciences.
Relating what she learned from “Finding Our Way” to her science class curriculum, Parikh investigated how chemical contamination of water affects marine life and their growth patterns. “I found that carbon-based pharmaceutical content in water caused brain lesions, dulling of senses, and other physiological effects on fish,” Parikh explained. “I decided to pursue this particular topic because I’m interested in marine neurology, health sciences, chemistry and the environment.”
Crediting “Finding Our Way” with both inspiration and connections to helpful experts, Parikh said that the program taught her how to present complex ideas in a clear, concise manner and helped her create school projects. “My favorite part of the program,” she said, “was the field trips to facilities such as NOAA and the Long Island Aquarium. Through these trips all of the participants were introduced to the reality of how much our environment needs our help. We also learned about careers that will allow us to pursue our stewardship campaigns and goals.”
“Khushi is focused, driven and interested in making a difference,” Pinou said, “and her family’s emotional support and confidence-building helps her achieve her dreams. Her participation in the summer ‘Finding Our Way’ program gave Khushi an opportunity to learn about the environment and ways she could make the world safer and cleaner for future generations.”
With a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Pinou brings students from Danbury and regional middle schools to WCSU for a wide-ranging educational experience focusing on water resources and ecosystem biodiversity. WCSU, Danbury Family Learning Center and Danbury Public Schools collaborate on the program, which offers 30 seventh-grade middle school students and their families a yearlong integrated environmental stewardship experience focused on New England watersheds.
“Finding Our Way” partners with WCSU’s Weather Center and The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation to study the life cycle and behavior of organisms that rely on the watershed for resources. It also partners with the NOAA Fisheries Lab in Milford, and FirstLight Power Resources to learn about sustainable clean energy such as biofuel and hydroelectric power.
Parikh recommends “Finding Our Way” to other middle schoolers because it connects learning with community service. “The program builds environmental awareness and commitment to stewardship,” Parikh explained, “and helps us discover our career interests and passions.”
Families interested in learning more are invited to attend an open meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 5, 2017, in the WCSU Science Building on the university’s Midtown campus, 181 White Street, Danbury. The 2017 Family Stewardship Awards will also be announced at that time, and new families are encouraged to engage with the previous cohort and ask questions.
For more information, call the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.