Cornell's Environmental Inquiry program for high school, middle school students wins Environmental Quality Award from EPA

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ITHACA, N.Y. -- Ninth- and 10th-grade biology students in Seneca Falls, N.Y., are investigating social and scientific issues behind a controversial proposal to expand an existing landfill in their town. High school students in Ithaca are evaluating the relative toxicity, effectiveness and cost of different highway de-icing compounds to find the most environmentally friendly alternatives to road salt. And in 11 cities around the country, young people are working with elders to study plants, people and cultures in urban community gardens.

Now, Environmental Inquiry, the Cornell University program that inspired these efforts, has earned the Environmental Quality Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is the agency's highest honor.

"By connecting classroom science with relevant environmental issues, Environmental Inquiry helps students make informed decisions and understand the roles they can play in improving environmental quality," said EPA Region 2 Administrator Jane M. Kenny when she presented the award at April 24 ceremonies in the EPA's Manhattan office.

Accepting the EPA award were Gretchen Ferenz and other members of Cornell Cooperative Extension of New York City. Said Marianne Krasny, one of two leaders of Environmental Inquiry in Cornell's Department of Natural Resources, "Cooperative Extension educators in New York City and elsewhere around the state are active collaborators in Environmental Inquiry, and we are pleased to have them join in accepting this honor."

The other Environmental Inquiry leader, Nancy Trautmann, said the program has developed a book series designed to engage high school students in environmental science research projects. "The series shows students how to design and carry out their own environmental science projects, based on issues of interest in their communities," Trautmann explained.

The most recent addition to the series is "Decay and Renewal," which focuses on the science behind biodegradation, including its uses in human-engineered processes such as composting, wastewater treatment and bioremediation. The first book in the series, Assessing Toxic Risk , focuses on use of bioassays to test the toxicity of environmental samples or chemical compounds. Invasion Ecology , the second title in the series, is designed to teach broad concepts in ecology and environmental science by focusing on the pressing issue of invasive plant and animal species.

The Environmental Inquiry program also provides National Science Foundation fellowships to graduate students who work as teaching partners, bringing university science to high school and middle school classes in schools from Ithaca to Rochester. Another aspect of Environmental Inquiry is Garden Mosaics, a program that promotes science learning, community action, and intergenerational and multicultural understanding by children and adults working together in urban gardens across the United States.

The EPA Environmental Quality Award is the second in as many years to a Cornell program. In 2002 the university's New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program was honored for teaching farmers and homeowners how to use ecologically sound pest-management techniques.

Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provide additional information on this news release.

Environmental Inquiry at Cornell: http://ei.cornell.edu

Cornell Science Inquiry Partnerships: http://csip.cornell.edu

Garxen Mosaics program: http://www.gardenmosaics.cornell.edu/