Jeannie Cuervo received a $1,000 mini-grant for her STEM Tools proposal.
She purchased two sets of sensors and a data logger with the money.
“I can’t stress enough how appreciative we are of our public education foundation,” Cuervo said. “They really do a lot for us, and we wouldn’t have these materials without them.”
An increased emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math has recently been noted in education. Cuervo said one reason for the STEM focus is the number of jobs opened in STEM-related fields. Projects focused on research provide students with a better understanding of science.
Both the logger and sensors aided students in semester-long assignments. Cuervo permitted students to choose their own study, as long as it dealt with aquatics. Students used the sensors to test water quality. The handheld sensors checked the temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH level and conductivity of the water samples.
About 10 of the projects will be submitted to the Tennessee Junior Academy of Science. Students may also enter their projects in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s science fair.
A panel of scientists at East Tennessee State University select which projects will be presented at Belmont University in Nashville as part of the TJAS. Only 15 out of around 100 projects will be chosen. Cuervo said Cleveland High has had at least one representative selected to present at Belmont for the last seven years.
A panel of judges at Belmont listen to a 10-minute presentation. They determine whether a student’s project will be selected for publication. Those students who are selected will be published scientists before they receive their high school diploma.
All students who attend Belmont will have their abstract published.
All submitted projects are based on research completed within the aquatic honors course.
“This is why the equipment is so important, because students can check it out [for field studies],” Cuervo said. “I teach them how to use the equipment and then they can check it out.”
Both Heidi Barringer and Anna Ferenchuk answered the challenge presented by Cuervo. Barringer, a golfer at CHS, researched the impact of golf courses on stream ecosystems. She studied the water at Waterville Golf Course. Her paper offered recommendations for golf courses interested in having a minimum impact on the ecosystem.
Ferenchuk researched the effects of excess nutrients in streams.
“This is very common in an urban environment,” Cuervo said. “We have a lot of runoff that goes into the stream, and a lot of it is nutrient rich, whether it be from fertilizers or materials leaking from automobiles.”
According to Cuervo, excess nutrients increase the growth of algae in a stream.
Students consistently review each other’s works throughout the project. The peer-review approach offers new insights and support during the process. The same practice is used by scientists.
Cuervo said the projects give students a self-confidence boost.
“When we first begin they are nervous and think, ‘Well, I can’t do that.’ It just means so much to me when they can be the person at the end of the semester who is giving this presentation and they are the expert in the room,” Cuervo said. “They know more than I do, and they know more than any other student in the room, because they’ve done the work.”
The tools purchased with the mini-grant can be used by multiple science courses at Cleveland High.
Cuervo reiterated her appreciation for the foundation’s support.