Teen Researchers Wrap Up a Wild Year
The first year of the zoo’s Partners in Fieldwork science-outreach program—developed by the Hurvis Center for Learning Innovation and Collaboration—recently came to a close. As the program’s primary coordinator, I asked participating high school students to reflect on its impact.
These teens have become experienced student researchers at their school sites. They learned how to set up motion-triggered cameras and review images documenting animals active at night. They conducted bird surveys every two weeks. They even learned which local bat species visited their neighborhoods by analyzing data from acoustic bat monitors positioned on their schools’ rooftops.
Each student walked away with a different experience, but all seemed to foster a greater appreciation for the abundant wildlife around them. Yes, you read that sentence correctly—wildlife within urban Chicago.
“Thanks to this program, I’ve come to realize there are more than sparrows, cardinals, geese and crows in Chicago,” says one student. “I was never aware of the different types of birds here until this program showed us.”
Partners in Fieldwork is not solely focused on increasing awareness of local wildlife. We also want to introduce research techniques that open eyes to new career opportunities and reframe inaccurate stereotypes of scientists as inaccessible laboratory eggheads in white lab coats.
This shift in perception is nicely summed up by one student, who says, “I never thought collecting data would be so fun!”
My biggest takeaway from the Partners in Fieldwork program? Students will spread what they learned to family and friends and seek out natural areas to escape the fast-paced city atmosphere.
Another participating teen put it this way: “Going outside with the purpose of enjoying nature is a wonderful experience. It allows me to break another barrier between city life and nature.”
Hopefully, we all can take a lesson from these high schoolers and go out and experience nature in the city for ourselves!
Matthew Mulligan is Youth Research Facilitator at Lincoln Park Zoo's Hurvis Center for Learning Innovation and Collaboration.