Advancing Informal Environmental STEM Literacy & Learning: A Co-Created Citizen Science Rainwater Harvesting in Underserved Communities

September 15th, 2016 - August 31st, 2021 | PROJECT

A frequently missing element in environmental education programs is a concerted effort by communities, organizations, government, and academic stakeholders to build meaningful partnerships and cultivate informal science learning opportunities via public participation in environmental research. This collaborative approach not only makes scientific information more readily available, it also engages community members in the processes of scientific inquiry, synthesis, data interpretation, and the translation of results into action. This project will build a co-created citizen science program coupled with a peer education model and an extensive communication of results to increase environmental STEM literacy. The project targets historically underrepresented populations that are likely to be disproportionately impacted by climate, water scarcity, and food security. Based upon past needs assessments in the targeted communities, gardens irrigated by harvested rainwater will become hubs for environmental STEM education and research. For this project, gardens irrigated by harvested rainwater will serve as hubs for environmental literacy education efforts. Researchers from the University of Arizona and Sonora Environmental Research Institute will work alongside community environmental health workers, who will then train families residing in environmentally compromised areas (urban and rural) on how to monitor their soil, plant, and harvested water quality. The project aims to: (1) co-produce environmental monitoring, exposure, and risk data in a form that will be directly relevant to the participants' lives, (2) increase the community's involvement in environmental decision-making, and (3) improve environmental STEM literacy and learning in underserved rural and urban communities. The project will investigate and gather extensive quantitative and quantitative data to understand how: (1) participation in a co-created citizen science project enhances a participant's overall environmental STEM literacy; (2) a peer-education model coupled with a co-created citizen science program affects participation of historically underrepresented groups in citizen science; and (3) the environmental monitoring approach influences the participant's environmental health learning outcomes and understanding of the scientific method. In parallel, this project will evaluate the role of local-based knowledge mediators and different mechanisms to communicate results. These findings will advance the fields of informal science education, environmental science, and risk communication. Concomitantly, the project will facilitate the co-generation of a robust dataset that will not only inform guidelines and recommendations for harvested rainwater use, it will build capacity in underserved communities and inform the safe and sustainable production of food sources. This research effort is especially critical for populations in arid and semiarid environments, which account for ~40% of the global land area and are inhabited by one-third of the world's population. This program will be available in English and Spanish and can truly democratize environmental STEM research and policy. This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understandings of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2021 Poster - Engaging Diverse Communities for Environmental Health Justice
Participatory Research for Environmental Justice: A Critical Interpretive Synthesis
Increasing Environmental Health Literacy through Contextual Learning in Communities at Risk
Engaging Diverse Citizen Scientists for Environmental Health: Recommendations from Participants and Promotoras
Minding the gap: socio-demographic factors linked to the perception of environmental pollution, water harvesting infrastructure, and gardening characteristics
Partnering for Action: Community monitoring of harvested rainwater in underserved, rural and urban Arizona communities

Team Members

Monica Ramirez-Andreotta, Principal Investigator, University of Arizona
Aminata Kilungo, Co-Principal Investigator
Leif Abrell, Co-Principal Investigator
Jean McLain, Co-Principal Investigator
Robert Root, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1612554
Funding Amount: $2,260,186.00


Access and Inclusion: English Language Learners | Ethnic | Racial | Hispanic | Latinx Communities | Rural | Urban
Audience: General Public | Scientists
Discipline: Climate | Ecology | forestry | agriculture | Engineering | Life science
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Citizen Science Programs | Community Outreach Programs | Public Programs

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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