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KODIAK: Volunteers Partners Win Big at Envirothon
Alaska Region, June 24, 2009
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Competitors Josh Powers and Ryan Grunden measure Sitka spruce at the forestry test station. (Photo: Blythe Brown)
Competitors Josh Powers and Ryan Grunden measure Sitka spruce at the forestry test station. (Photo: Blythe Brown) - Photo Credit: n/a
Sylvia Kavanaugh, Daniel Cornelius, and Adam Hogen perform water tests at the aquatics station as ADF&G biologist, Steve Thomsen, monitors another student. (Photo: Switgard Duesterloh)
Sylvia Kavanaugh, Daniel Cornelius, and Adam Hogen perform water tests at the aquatics station as ADF&G biologist, Steve Thomsen, monitors another student. (Photo: Switgard Duesterloh) - Photo Credit: n/a
Volunteers Barbara Rudio (right), Margo Connolly (center), and Lisa Hupp calculated test results to award winners at event-day closing ceremonies. (Photo: Lisa Polito)
Volunteers Barbara Rudio (right), Margo Connolly (center), and Lisa Hupp calculated test results to award winners at event-day closing ceremonies. (Photo: Lisa Polito) - Photo Credit: n/a
Volunteers Margo Connolly, Lisa Hupp, and Linda Himelbloom (left to right), sort commemorative Kodiak Envirothon hoodies for the awards ceremony. (Photo: Lisa Polito)
Volunteers Margo Connolly, Lisa Hupp, and Linda Himelbloom (left to right), sort commemorative Kodiak Envirothon hoodies for the awards ceremony. (Photo: Lisa Polito) - Photo Credit: n/a

Some of the biggest winners at the first Kodiak Envirothon didn’t even compete. At the end of a busy, logistically complicated, cold and wet competition day, a room full of excited student competitors perched on seat-edges awaiting their award certificates and commemorative hooded sweatshirts. Envirothon partners and volunteers looked on from the back of the room with expressions of amazed delight.  After six months of tedious planning meetings, test-activity development, and classroom presentations, the single-day, six-station environmental science competition kept thirty-four high school students engaged and excited to the very end. Students may have started out motivated by the stylish event “hoodies” and a chance to represent Kodiak at the state Envirothon, but at the end of the day, elated smiles proved to be the most prized award for student competitors and volunteers alike.

 

Success of Kodiak NWR’s inaugural Envirothon resulted from the cooperative efforts of Refuge staff and an army of volunteers.  The event required 14 event-day support volunteers, 22 Kodiak area resource managers, biologists, and educators.  All partnered with the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR)and Kodiak High School instructor, Jane Eisemann, to create the custom Kodiak Envirothon—a hands-on environmental science competition for high school students.  The Envirothon was modeled after the national Canon Envirothon and state of Alaska Envirothon, sponsored in Alaska by Future Farmers of America. The fledgling Kodiak competition included the standard test subjects of soils, aquatics, forestry, and wildlife, and took advantage of Kodiak’s abundance of marine biologists by adding a marine component.  Since Kodiak students competed as individuals rather than teams, an essay station, focused on the 2009 national special topic “Biodiversity in a Changing World”, replaced the team problem-solving activities typically found at state and national competitions.

 

Eisemann, natural resources and fisheries/marine science teacher at Kodiak high school, encountered Envirothon competitions through her faculty sponsorship of Kodiak's Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter.  In 2008, she chaperoned Kodiak's FFA team to the state Envirothon, where the team placed third.  With support of the newly forged education partnership with KNWR, Eisemann incorporated training for a Kodiak competition into the natural resources course curriculum for 2008-09. The curriculum focused the outreach and education efforts of resource managers and researchers and provided students with an added incentive.  Resource professionals appreciated the relevancy of their presentations to competition preparation. Likewise, the looming competition injected student learning with a greater sense of consequence. 

 

Kodiak Envirothon also helped Eisemann determine eligibility for Kodiak’s state Envirothon team.  Armed with the competitive experience, five Kodiak top scorers competed as a team at the 2009 state Envirothon in Palmer, three weeks later.  The Kodiak team took second place, and Eisemann believes the local competition dramatically improved her students’ competitive edge at the state event. The Kodiak team was defeated only by the three-time state champion Homer team, boasting several seasoned Envirothon team members. State event coordinators were similarly impressed with the performance of the Kodiak team and have cast an eye toward Kodiak as a possible site for the 2010 state Envirothon.

 

The Kodiak Envirothon was based at the new Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center, and the activity stations were dispersed between four off-site stations at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office, the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center, and a stand of Sitka spruce on Near Island.  Envirothon partners and volunteers faced many intricate logistics throughout the day.  They moved six student groups among various competition stations adapting transportation plans at the last-minute; they braved blizzard conditions, which threatened to cancel the event, to measure spruce trees; they even adjusted scoring procedures when a few sneaky juvenile flounders slipped beneath a tank barricade, putting a real-life spin on the population estimate activity. Perhaps in light of the complications, rather than in spite of them, Envirothon partners felt a true sense of accomplishment at the day’s end.

 

In addition to engaged students and delighted volunteers, the Envirothon cross-pollinated Kodiak area agencies and forged new professional alliances. Envirothon partners included both city and borough municipalities, two Kodiak native corporations, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska State Troopers, Universities of Alaska Anchorage and Fairbanks, several federal agencies (NMFS, NRCS, USCG), as well as local non-profit groups, resource management consultants, and supportive community members. The collaboration was a first for several volunteers and partners and the experience proved invigorating.  Post-event feedback resoundingly called for increased interaction among the various test subject groups: Envirothon partners asked for more planning meetings, as well as peer-reviewed rehearsals of activities.

 

Thirty-six individuals contributed over 500 hours to the event, all were immediately enthusiastic about next year’s competition.  The charcoal-gray Kodiak Envirothon hoodies have become a coveted memento of the competition, worn with pride by students and volunteers alike.  A month after the event, an Envirothon hoodie still stirs up fond memories. One can just point to the hoodie’s hip graphic, say the magic word, “Envirothon”, and those event-day grins of satisfaction and accomplishment are instantly rekindled for everyone.


Contact Info: Lisa Polito, (907) 487-0285, lisa_polito@fws.gov



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