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UW Science Initiative Collaborates With Snowy Range Academy for Field-Based Research

June 17, 2022
group of people standing outside a small building
UW faculty members and students who make up the Science Initiative Roadshow, from left, are Ellen Polites, Austin Bernard, Jamie Crait, Mark Lyford, Eva Smith, Katie Davis, Ryan Goeken and Karagh Brummond. Sarah Greger is not pictured. The group worked with Snowy Range Academy fifth grade students on various field-based research in Curt Gowdy State Park May 18-20. (Diane Cook Photo)

Eight University of Wyoming faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students recently collaborated with 22 Snowy Range Academy fifth grade students on field-based research projects in Curt Gowdy State Park.

This cross-level learning experience provided the Laramie fifth graders with an experiential learning opportunity that drew on concepts they learned in the classroom and allowed them to demonstrate real-world application of science in their own backyard. UW researchers expanded their learning opportunities by increasing their ability to communicate science and help Wyoming youth learn about hands-on field-based research methods linked to locally relevant questions.

Snowy Range Academy students were divided into four teams to conduct the field research in Curt Gowdy State Park May 18-20. The UW team leaders were:

-- Mark Lyford, a UW senior lecturer of botany and Science Initiative program director, and Austin Bernard, a UW undergraduate student from Santa Cruz, Calif., majoring in mechanical engineering, led the tree density and soil moisture research.

-- Jamie Crait, a UW botany instructor and Wyoming Research Scholars Program director, and Sarah Greger, a UW undergraduate student from Jackson majoring in kinesiology, headed the research on the effects of water temperature on oxygen and animals.

-- Ellen Polites, a UW graduate student in geology from York, Pa., and Eva Smith, a graduate student in geophysics from Granville, Ohio, co-led the work on the impacts of elevation on rock erosion.

-- Katie Davis, a UW graduate student from Laramie majoring in ecology, and Ryan Goeken, a Science Initiative senior information specialist, spearheaded the hikes to spot and study the birds in Curt Gowdy State Park.

Snowy Range Academy students began their multiday research project by hiking with their research teams and making observations related to their research questions. By the end of the first day, students identified their research questions and generated hypotheses based on their observations. On the second day, students were back in the field with their UW researchers collecting data on their research questions.

person with binoculars in wooded area
Braelyn Dowie, a fifth grade student at Snowy Range Academy, observes birds in Curt Gowdy State Park to determine how habitat location impacts the diversity of bird species. (Ryan Goeken Photo)

The collaboration came about after Diane Cook, a Snowy Range Academy fifth grade teacher, reached out to the Science Initiative Roadshow with the idea to work together on an interactive, hands-on activity. Cook wanted to put the scientific method she was teaching her students into action. 

“Working with the outreach program, the Science Initiative allowed my fifth grade class the opportunity to learn about the scientific method in a hands-on and meaningful way,” Cook says. “Experts were provided so students were able to ask more difficult questions and get the answers they needed. Having multiple groups allowed for smaller group sizes without a lot of extra school staff to support. I hope to make this an annual activity in my classroom.”

The final day of the research outreach was spent at Snowy Range Academy, where students and researchers came together to work on data analysis, drawing conclusions and creating poster presentations. The students then presented their research findings to Cook and their classmates, their principal and parents, and the UW researchers involved. 

After the research concluded, Snowy Range Academy students expressed their appreciation to the UW researchers by sharing their feedback. Student comments included “I enjoyed learning new things”; “Thank you for listening to our ideas”; “Thank you for helping us learn about rocks”; “Thank you for making the trip more fun”; and “Thank you for helping us identify birds and giving us a fun time.”

“It was fun to get the kids thinking about how landscapes are formed through erosion,” Smith says. “Their curiosity and willingness to answer questions made it a rewarding experience.” 

This collaboration between the Science Initiative Roadshow and Snowy Range Academy will continue to be a yearly event. The Roadshow is always looking for field-based research leaders -- faculty and graduate students -- and volunteers -- undergraduate students -- to help facilitate the experience.

To learn more and/or get involved, individuals can email Karagh Brummond, Science Initiative Roadshow director, at

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