April 09, 2020
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3 reasons why Maine needs STEM education

Presented By Poland Spring

1. Helping to Maintain the Ecosystem

Maine sees 24 trillion gallons of rain annually – and scientists think Maine is likely to get even rainier due to climate change. More rain can lead to increased water runoff, potentially resulting in algae blooms as fertilizer gets washed from agricultural areas into the water table, requiring careful management.

On top of its incredible water assets, 90% of Maine is covered in forest – a higher percentage than any other state. The stunning breadth of Maine’s ecosystems and natural resources means the state needs plenty of expertise in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to help monitor and understand its ecosystems, but cultivating STEM has to start early. One program that enables Maine’s children to pursue education in STEM is the Good Science Scholarship.

Every year since 2007, through its Good Science scholarship program, Poland Spring® Brand Natural Spring Water has provided $1,000 of funding to 28 young adults from southern Maine who plan to study STEM fields in college – that’s $280,000 invested and counting. When asked why STEM education is such a high priority for the Poland Spring® Brand, community relations manager Heather Printup says, “It’s a core value for us to try to foster environmental stewardship from a young age.”

Good Science Scholarship recipient Mary Everett and Poland Spring natural resource supervisor Mark LaPlante take water measurements in the woods of Maine.

2. Putting Research Know-how to Work in Maine’s Vast Wilderness

Like many kids in Poland, 20-year-old Mary Everett always had a strong affinity for the outdoors. “Growing up in Maine, you really have to appreciate nature and the outdoors to like it here. It was so easy to find a hiking trail or a tree to climb,” she says.

In high school, her casual enjoyment of the outdoors led Mary to take as many science classes as she could, even earning a part-time job as a teaching assistant. As school ended, she was selected for a Good Science Scholarship from the Poland Spring® Brand. Mary describes the scholarship as “an affirmation that my interest in environmental science and my drive to get more involved wasn’t going unnoticed. It gave me drive to really dedicate my education to preserving natural resources.”

Now, Mary is studying ecology at University of Maine in Orono, with a concentration in policy and natural resource management, funded in part by the Poland Spring® Brand – where she now interns, often working outside in the woods she loves. When asked what she enjoys most about her internship at Poland Spring, Mary says, “What impresses me most is the number of intelligent people working here who really do care about the water. I really like the time and effort and thought put into sustainability and the long-term health of the aquifers.”

3. Cultivating Healthy, Locally-Grown Food

Around half of all food consumed in the United States goes uneaten. Food waste is among the many challenges addressed at The Ecology School, a cutting-edge, residential, hands-on science education program in Saco that’s funded in part by the Poland Spring® Brand with over $277,000 in public school programs support over the past 10 years.

The Ecology School uses its farm to teach Maine kids about topics like decomposition, soil quality, and composting.

Executive Director Drew Dumsch says the family-style, multi-course meals kids enjoy with their educators are the perfect teachable moments: “During the meal, our educators may do a song about food waste or farming – we have a huge costume closet that we use for mealtime [skits].” It isn’t just for show or to keep them busy, though – Dumsch says that the whimsical approach keeps kids engaged. “We know that if they have a smile on their face while we’re teaching them about ecology, it fits in with what we know works in our teaching practice.”  

Kids help run meals, too, taking compost out to the compost pile afterwards, learning in the process about the ecological cycles of growth and decomposition that underpin the food they eat. The kind of ecological awareness they pick up by learning how to compost and grow interdependent food crops isn’t a luxury, it’s as important to Mainers as reading, writing, or arithmetic, Dumsch argues: “It’s part of citizenship for the 21st century.”

Ecology School instructor Leanna Bonds says that the immersive program gets kids excited about STEM subjects in a way that regular classroom learning may not: “When they’re excited about science and excited to learn, we know they go back to their classroom and share that excitement with their teachers and classmates.”

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