A group of 20 to 25 middle school students will be the first class to take a new Western Washington University Youth Programs course this summer, thanks to the generosity of Shelley and Steve Sulkin of Bellingham.
The Sulkins made a $50,000 gift to the Western Washington University Foundation to establish the Sulkin STEM Inclusion Odyssey of Science Fund. Shelley Sulkin is a retired teacher, who taught at both the Bellingham and Ferndale school districts. Her husband, Steve, is the longtime former director of Western’s Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes, a position he retired from in 2012.
“Because Steve and Shelley are both lifelong educators, they understand the valuable benefits that come from investing in young lives,” said Tim Szymanowski, associate vice president of Development and Leadership Gifts at Western. “Their generosity and kindness with this gift is an extension of the kind of investment they have been making their entire careers.”
The instructors of the new course, titled “Real World Applications of Environmental Research: Ocean Acidification in the Salish Sea,” will engage students in case studies of actual research projects being conducted by Western faculty and graduate students.
The program is being held June 25-29 from 8 a.m.- noon at Western’s Bellingham campus. Students will learn about eelgrass, ocean acidification and the effects on marine animals and the scientific process in a marine field. They will also take home tangible actions they can implement in their lives to help protect oceans and will create a video research project.
The program includes topics such as the phenomenon of toxic algal blooms (red tides) and how it affects water quality and shellfish harvesting, the causes and consequences of ocean acidification in fisheries production and hatchery operations, and how life history studies of commercially-fished shellfish and crabs influence management. The studies will not be limited to marine-oriented environmental research.
“The Sulkin gift will facilitate a natural connection, bringing together middle school students with the research happening right here in our community,” said Charisse Berner, director of Teaching and Learning at Bellingham Public Schools. “We know this will help our students see the opportunities provided by higher education, while perhaps discovering and developing a passion for the environment or pursing a STEM related field in their future. We are very excited to partner with Western for this important program.”
Participation in the course will be targeted at groups underrepresented in science and those whose economic status would otherwise preclude their participation.
“We anticipate the fund will support 20-to-25 students per year for 10 years, beginning in the summer of 2018,” Shelley Sulkin said. “We feel it’s important for future stewards of our environment to have an understanding of the ways in which scientific inquiry can inform how we use and protect natural resources. To be effective, we must intentionally include more students in this type of learning.”
The Odyssey of Science & Arts Program is a weeklong, half-day summer enrichment program that offers students in fourth through ninth grades an opportunity to explore the sciences and/or the arts through hands-on learning on Western’s main campus. The program’s goal is to instill the excitement for learning through application of knowledge in a safe and collaborative student-centered environment. Area school teachers develop and teach Odyssey of Science & Arts courses, which are designed to engage students through interactive lessons and activities that foster success and inspire them to start thinking about higher education.
“We note that universities are intellectual and creative powerhouses that can contribute to the educational, cultural and economic development of the regions they serve,” said Steve Sulkin. “We hope this project will help illustrate the value of Western Washington University to local communities. We also hope it will promote the concept that research, conducted by Western's faculty and graduate students, can contribute to a better understanding of our valuable natural resources and environment and, in so doing, lead to a better future for all of our citizens.”
More information on Western’s youth offerings is available at ee.wwu.edu/youth-programs.