Campus News

EarthEd Institute brings teachers to UB, Penn Dixie and other sites

Photos: Douglas Levere


Published July 22, 2021

Kimberly Meehan.
“The EarthEd Institute allows our departments to pool our resources and have a greater impact for K-12 students in the area. ”
Kimberly Meehan, clinical assistant professor
Department of Geology

On a hot July afternoon, with silver clouds hanging in the sky and mud underfoot, a group of high school science teachers perched at the edge of Bizer Creek on the UB North Campus.

Stands of wild garlic, prickly teasel plants and cattails rose around them. Swallows flew overhead.

But the educators weren’t here to take in the scenery; they’d come to work. Swinging rock and sledgehammers, they pounded sections of sturdy plastic tubing into the creek bed, removing cylindrical samples of sediment, called cores, that revealed the geology beneath the water: layers of soil, rocks and clay, extending a few inches down.

“If you spread out over a small area and each member of a class pulls one core or one data point, you could easily have 15 data points,” said Kimberly Meehan, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Geology, who was leading the activity — a hands-on project that would translate well in a middle or high school class.

Later in the week, the group learned to digitally map coring sites, document the sediment cores’ appearance, and process samples to identify rocks and minerals.

The activities were part of the EarthEd Institute, a free professional development program for science teachers launched this year by the Department of Geology and the Department of Environment and Sustainability, both in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. The agenda is geared toward content for teaching grades 6-12.

Taking place from July 12-16, the institute had two tracks: One for geology, and one for ecology. Teachers heard from experts about the latest earth and environmental research, and on ways to engage students with different learning styles. Expeditions included an afternoon at Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve; a visit to UB’s Letchworth Woods centering on the evolution and adaptations of local botanicals; and tours of post-industrial sites along the Buffalo River, where they got to see firsthand how they could use ecological restoration techniques with students; among others.

A follow-up program will pair some attendees with graduate students and professors to craft lessons and labs aligned with state standards, integrating EarthEd concepts into K-12 classrooms during the school year. Long-term goals include bringing new learning experiences to local students and encouraging young people from diverse communities to consider a future at UB in STEM fields.

Meehan and Nicholas Henshue, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Environment and Sustainability, organized the institute in collaboration with community partners and many faculty and staff members.

“The EarthEd Institute allows our departments to pool our resources and have a greater impact for K-12 students in the area,” Meehan says. “Faculty members wanted to offer a program that was meaningful, impactful and real.”

The summer program included 13 teachers from urban, suburban and rural communities in Western New York, and one who took part virtually from Brooklyn, New York.

Among them was Jerry Krajna, who teaches conservation and aquaculture at Riverside Academy as part of the Buffalo Public Schools’ Career and Technical Education program.

He liked the EarthEd Institute’s focus on hands-on science, including a session on measuring groundwater flow in a creek, stream or pond using simple, easy-to-make tools.

“It’s almost like they’re teaching us hacks, per se. We got information on how to make the tools to do it instead of going out and buying expensive scientific equipment,” Krajna says.

Of the EarthEd Institute as a whole, he adds, “I thought it was really great. It was an extremely challenging year for us teachers, and the EarthEd Institute didn’t feel like a chore — we wanted to go to the training. They did a good job with timing of sessions and the variety of information that they provided to us. They had a lot of good hands-on experiences, so a lot of the things that our students really like about classes, we were able to experience.”

Meehan and Henshue anticipate running the EarthEd Institute again in summer of 2022. Teachers in Western New York who would like to apply to attend can contact the program at any time of year at or 716-645-4864.