Coastal@VT co-leader Anamaria Bukvic and Coastal@VT faculty member Sarah Karpanty led a Kids’ Tech University session about the impacts of sea level rise on March 30 at Virginia Tech.

The Kids' Tech University program is different from other kids' programs because it puts real researchers in front of children to give exciting interactive sessions based on those famous "why" questions that have always intrigued children.

Bukvic and Karpanty were part of the Kids’ Tech University 10-year anniversary program.

Co-founded by former faculty member Reinhard Laubenbaucher and Kristy Collins in 2009 at the Biocomplexity Institute, the program is run much like European science education programs with hands-on components and lectures from scientists. Originally designed to be a small outreach program, Kids’ Tech University has grown to hosting 450 kids per session and has expanded to two states and multiple universities and science museums. Kids' Tech University is now supported by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute after the recent transfer of assets from the Biocomplexity Institute. 

Experiential learning is at the core of the Kids’ Tech University program. By hearing experts in the field and doing activities that foster deep learning, students are well-prepared to continue in STEM education and eventually into STEM careers.

“We've built a program that has proven success. I would like to see more Virginia Tech faculty take advantage of the program and include it in their grants to expand their outreach agenda,” said Collins, director of Kids’ Tech University. 

Experts Bukvic and Karpanty led a talk titled “The sea is rising! How do we know, why does it matter, and what can we do?” They began the session by talking about their educational backgrounds and why they became scientists.

“I remember growing up near a small neighborhood library and reading every book that was available. I was fascinated by questions about natural sciences and how people interact with the environment,” said Bukvic, an affiliated faculty member of the Global Change Center, an arm of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

Bukvic is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and co-leader of the Coastal@VT initiative at Virginia Tech. She has a multidisciplinary education that drives her dedication to study complex issues with a focus on interdisciplinary integration and holistic problem-solving. Bukvic’s research focuses on coastal adaptation, resilience, and vulnerability, as well as on hazard-induced population displacement and relocation.

Karpanty remembers growing up fishing and camping with her family. “Spending time outside studying nature and animals is what made me happy. I initially began to ask questions about why birds migrate, which ultimately led to my career in conservation,” she said. 

Karpanty is an associate professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation also in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech and an affiliated faculty member of Coastal@VT. Karpanty studies how changing climate impacts wildlife and the recovery of imperiled species, ranging from lemurs in the rainforests of Madagascar to shorebirds on the U.S. Atlantic Coast. She is interested in how human communities can make choices in the face of climate change that both help people and wildlife.

“To be a scientist, you need to ask questions, make observations, follow where your interests are, and use a set of tools to solve problems,” said Karpanty.  

At the Kids’ Tech University event, Bukvic and Karpanty introduced the problem of sea level rise and climate change. They explained the difference between weather and climate: weather is the day-to-day state of the atmosphere but climate is the long-term trend in weather.

Anamaria Bukvic and Sarah Karpanty
Anamaria Bukvic (left) and Sarah Karpanty (right). Photos courtesy of Ivan Morozov.

The researchers asked the kids to think about how sea level rise will impact individuals and communities. Sea level rise combined with storms will cause significant challenges for people living on the coast as well as for the coastal built environment, infrastructure, and fish and wildlife.

Bukvic and Karpanty concluded with a discussion on possible solutions to combat sea level rise. “There are ways in which we can adapt and help Mother Nature; we can plant marshes that can absorb and buffer the water from communities. Oyster castles are cement structures that can be added along the shoreline that will be colonized by oysters, and they can buffer the mainland against the rising seas and storms,” said Karpanty.

For some communities, it may be necessary to move to higher and safer ground. Changes can also be made to infrastructure to elevate houses and add flood vents.

“In Europe, communities are designing their open spaces to absorb more water, and there are also these great futuristic ideas like designing floating cities,” said Bukvic.

Bukvic and her son then presented a demonstration showing students how to put together an emergency preparedness kit for hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters, and Karpanty and Bukvic concluded with a question and answer session.

Activities in the afternoon consisted of hands-on STEM activities to reinforce what the kids had learned from Bukvic and Karpanty’s interactive discussion.

Coastal@VT is composed of 36 junior and senior faculty participants from eight different colleges and various scientific disciplines at Virginia Tech led by Robert Weiss, an associate professor of geosciences, and Anamaria Bukvic. Coastal@VT’s mission is to foster coastal resilience and prosperity through transdisciplinary education and engagement. Coastal@VT is one of the concept areas of the Global Systems Science Destination Area that is focused on understanding and finding solutions to critical problems associated with human activity and environmental change that, together, affects disease states, water quality, and food production.

Coastal@VT faculty not only conduct collaborative and interdisciplinary research, but also place an emphasis on inclusiveness and diversity by engaging graduate and undergraduate students in research activities. They are also active in numerous outreach and service initiatives like the session with Kids’ Tech University.

Registration for the 2020 Kids’ Tech University program will open in October 2019.

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