Yellowstone is a wonderland of tourist attractions, and local teams work diligently within the park to protect its ecosystems and promote conservation. One such initiative is Ecology Project International’s (EPI) Yellowstone Wildlife Ecology Program, which works to inspire the next generation of Montanans to pursue careers in science and conservation.
This summer, Verizon Wireless provided a grant to EPI to engage 50 underserved Montana youth in field-based ecology courses at Yellowstone, with the end goal of inspiring the next generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) leaders. The students gathered in the park to participate in four outdoor courses, each lasting five days, which involved the collecting of scientific data on bison grazing, bear safety and wolf behavior for ongoing studies by the National Park Service.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the nation’s most visited parks, as more than 3.5 million people flocked there in 2014 to see its geysers, mountain wildlands and wildlife, ranging from bears and wolves to bison and elk.
Using the data they gathered, the students developed and investigated their own research questions to boost their understanding of scientific processes and ecosystem ecology, ultimately presenting the research findings to their peers.
From grassland productivity modeling to surveying wolves, these courses are not developed around hypothetical science. Students on course with EPI Yellowstone actually contribute research that can help inform policy decisions and land and wildlife management programs.
The Verizon Foundation is committed to investing in organizations like EPI that work to improve STEM achievement and focus on underserved youth. EPI Yellowstone Program Manager Erin Clark said, “Verizon helped us grow our reach and make an even greater impact in our community.”
For these 50 kids, Yellowstone may be in their own backyard, but it is still a place of scientific wonderment. A student from Thompson Falls said, “Between the bison, wolves and hot springs, it was just astonishing!”
Through activities like exploration of geothermal features to studying bison grazing patterns, EPI and Verizon hope that students served by the Yellowstone Wildlife Ecology Program will be inspired to pursue careers like conservation biology or wildlands management that could lead them back home to Montana and Yellowstone. On the last day of a camp in June, a student confidently declared, “My EPI experience has inspired me to make a change in my community,” and a classmate followed up with, “I’m inspired to learn more about native animals from the reservation that are not there now and maybe bring some back in my lifetime.”
To learn more about Ecology Project International or to support the organization, visit: www.ecologyproject.org/get_involved/causes/support_students