First-Year Students get Watery Lesson in Science, Community Impact

Two students wading in Wantagh waterway

Popular opinion holds that sometimes the best way to learn new things is to get your feet wet. For ten first-year students at SUNY Old Westbury and students from Westbury High School this fall, that saying had literal meaning. 

The College’s Community Action, Learning and Leadership Program and Science and Technology Entry Program joined forces to develop a thematic Panther citizen science project.  Developed through a four-year-old partnership between SUNY Old Westbury and the Town of Hempstead Department of Conservation and Waterways, the effort involved the students making weekly trips during the semester to conduct water quality monitoring at sites throughout Wantagh, New York.

From Forest City Park in the North, through the Twin Ponds Reserve, to the East Bay on Long Island’s southern coastline, the students gathered water samples, tested PH levels, tracked total coliform amounts and more to gauge changes in the quality of this watershed over time.

Enrolled in Community & Global Citizenship, the Old Westbury students partnered with and supported students enrolled in AP Environmental Science at Westbury High School to surface scientific and environmental justice ecological inquiries.

Some waded knee deep into freezing cold brooks while others were using scientific instrumentation to test, track and record their results.

“I feel like I learn better when its hands on,” said Karel Nicolas, a first-year student from Freeport, New York, after taking off his waders. “You become more familiar with the science terms by using the machines and systems.”

That is exactly the point.

“Our hope was to interest students that both were science majors and those without that interest,” said Hugh Fox, director of the CALL program. ”We wanted to connect them not only to the science behind this work but also to the social justice and environmental justice issues that impact the Long Island community.”

Through CALL and their Community and Global Citizenship course, the SUNY Old Westbury students  supported the Westbury High School students in a virtual “deliberative dialogue” that, along with included scientists and staff from the Town of Hempstead Department of Conservation and Waterways.

This is the latest example of the experiential learning that takes place through the CALL program, the College’s award-winning, comprehensive community engagement program for first-year students. Students through CALL collaborate in community-based engagements that emphasize the importance of experiencing teamwork, community building, confidence and trust to bridge divides across Long Island, the New York Region, nationally, globally and virtually.

Since CALL’s launch in 2007, more than 10,000 students have engaged with community partners that address the myriad needs of underserved communities and families across Long Island, the New York Region, nationally, internationally and virtually. Representing more than 750,000 hours of community engagement over the program’s history, their serve equates to an estimated economic impact of $12 million.  

“CALL’s core is the linking of traditional academic study to community-based learning – to truly bring learning to life,” said Fox. “Through this, our students learn the philosophy, history and concepts of a given subject, but they also get to experience how that content occurs in the real world and impacts their lives and their communities.”

Even if they have to wring out their socks when they are done.

Community Action Learning and Leadership