Wilmington teens learn about environment via Green Jobs program

August 7, 2012 under CANR News

On a recent sunny morning, two shimmering blue dragonflies darted by the mauve blooms of Joe Pye weed in a newly created wetland on University of Delaware’s Newark Farm. It created the perfect teaching moment for Jenny McDermott, facilities and land manager for UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as she led a tour for teenagers participating in the city of Wilmington’s Green Jobs program.

“When we put this wetland in, some people were concerned that we’d have more mosquitoes in the chicken houses nearby but we actually have less of a problem. Can anyone tell me why?” asked McDermott.

“Dragonflies eat mosquitoes,” replied Elijah White, a 14-year-old who, in summer, lives with his mother in Wilmington and in Georgia during the school year. “We learned that from Mr. Jim White when we were at the DuPont Environmental Education Center.”

The eating habits of dragonflies is just the start of what White and nine other youth are discovering about the environment during this summer’s Green Jobs program. A partnership between the University of Delaware, the city of Wilmington and six other organizations, the six-week paid work experience exposes the students to a variety of environmental topics.

The teens discovered where their drinking water comes from during a visit to the city’s water treatment plant. They learned how to map GIS coordinates and the ways that scientists use geographic information systems at UD’s Water Resources Agency, a program unit of the Institute for Public Administration in the School of Public Policy and Administration. They removed invasive plants from the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge and found out why these species are harmful even if — as one student noticed – they sometimes have attractive flowers and foliage. They toured UD’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, where they kayaked and then splashed around in the water as they caught aquatic critters in seining nets.

“I loved the trip to Lewes; it was fun,” said Jonathan Tucker, a 17-year-old rising junior at Newark High School whose mother encouraged him to apply for the Green Jobs program. A self-confessed “indoor guy,” Tucker said he now has a better appreciation for the natural world around him. “Yeah, there’s something to be said for nature,” said Tucker. “I’m amazed at how much land there is at the Urban Wildlife Refuge, even though it’s in the city.”

“I really like technology and want to work in the technology field,” he added. “Now that I’m with Green Jobs, I’ve been thinking it would be cool to design hybrid cars that run on plant-based fuels.”

Regardless of whether Tucker works in the biofuels industry or ultimately chooses another career path, he is picking up useful job skills this summer, including public speaking and resume writing.

“Although Green Jobs is centered on the environmental field, we want to help the students develop skills they will need to work as professionals in any career field,” said Martha Corrozi Narvaez, associate policy scientist at UD’s Water Resources Agency and the mastermind behind the Green Jobs program.

Several new features have been added to Green Jobs, which is now in its second year. “One thing I’m really excited about is that each participant has been paired with a mentor this summer,” says Narvaez. “These experts will provide one-on-one guidance, training and insight into a variety of environmental careers. The hope is that many of these relationships are sustained so that if the teens have a career question next school year, they feel comfortable contacting their mentor by email or phone.”

The teens also have a mentor in program counselor Adib Rushdan. A 2006 UD grad, Rushdan was employed in the medical technology field for several years before recently completing a stint in Wilmington city schools with AmeriCorps. He said that he plans to earn his teaching certification. “I’m enjoying my work with the Green Jobs students,” said Rushdan. “They’re a good group of kids. Green Jobs is a valuable program; it exposes teens to many different things outside of their normal experiences.”

Such as a modern milking parlor – that’s not an everyday experience for most American teens. The UD parlor was empty when McDermott and the students walked through it – it was close to 11 a.m.; way past milking time. McDermott explained that corn and alfalfa are grown on 120 acres of cropland to feed the farm’s 100 dairy cows and that some of the milk is sold to a cooperative. “Chances are, if you drink milk and live in Delaware then you’ve had UD milk before,” said McDermott.

As for what happens to the rest of the milk supply, the Green Jobs students discovered the tasty answer to that question on the last stop on the tour – at the UDairy Creamery, which produces premium ice cream from milk from UD’s dairy cows.

Cherry vanilla? Chocolate marshmallow? Delaware River mud pie? Who knew that learning about the environment could be so sweet.

Article and photo by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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College converts cow pasture into thriving wetland

May 19, 2010 under CANR News

Several times a week, Chad Nelson begins his workday with a trek through a wetland near his Townsend Hall office on the University of Delaware’s Newark campus. With spring in full swing, he enjoys the sight of the butterflies, migratory songbirds, mallard ducks and their ducklings, frogs and tadpoles that make the wetland their warm-weather home.

Later this summer Nelson, an assistant professor of landscape design in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, will be on the look out for dragonflies. And even in winter, he says the wetland teems with life, with such species as glossy ibis and over-wintering songbirds.

Two years ago, about the only animal life this two-acre site supported were dairy cows and migrating Canada geese.

Jenny McDermott, facilities manager for the college, spearheaded the effort to convert a poorly draining cow pasture into a wetland.

Her go-to man on the project was Tom Barthelmeh, who is a wetlands restoration expert with the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

“This project had a lot of challenges and Tom’s help was integral,” says McDermott. “Our goal in creating this wetland was not only to provide wildlife habitat but to improve water quality in the White Clay watershed.”

Once it is fully operational, the wetland will reduce runoff to Cool Run, which is a tributary of White Clay Creek. And that’s just one of the ways it will help the watershed.

The University’s farm and main campus are where Cool Run starts, the headwaters of the stream, and thus are a critical area for influencing environmental quality.

“Wetlands, especially in this area, do a lot of good things for a watershed,” explains McDermott. “By taking the pressure off the rate and volume of water that flows into a stream, wetlands reduce problems caused by stormwater runoff downstream.”

From a wildlife habitat perspective, the wetland gets high marks from Doug Tallamy, chairperson of UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

“The new wetlands will raise the carrying capacity of the UD Farm for decades,” says Tallamy. “The wet areas churn out insects that develop on detritus. These support swifts, martins, swallows and bats. Wading birds eat the aquatic insects and frogs in the wet areas. The wetland also provides habitats for breeding birds. It’s very productive. And none of this was happening when it was a cow pasture.”

Barthelmeh says he enjoyed the project, especially because it gave him the opportunity to mentor students. UD undergraduate and graduate students were involved in every aspect of the project, from site design and installation to the two rounds of planting that occurred, most recently last October.

Nelson spearheaded plant design with plenty of assistance from his students. Almost 2,000 trees, shrubs and perennial seed plugs have been planted at the site, ranging from blue flag iris, which provides purple-blue spring blooms; buttonbush, which blooms in summer; bald cypress, with its brilliant rusty orange fall foliage; and winterberry holly, known for its red berries in winter.

A whopping 90 percent of the first year’s planting survived despite dry planting conditions and some damage by waterfowl.

“I was concerned last year because a lot of Canada geese were browsing the wetland but most of the damage wasn’t significant since it was confined to the stalks and not the roots,” says Nelson.

The wetland is one component of a comprehensive plan to make the UD Farm a model of sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture.

McDermott is now busy overseeing other conservation projects. Additional channel and wetland restoration will take place along the entire length of the Cool Run tributary running through the farm. A stormwater retrofit will address building and parking lot runoff that flows into Cool Run.

“These restoration efforts wouldn’t be possible without a lot of partners within the university, from DNREC and from the New Castle Conservation District,” says McDermott. “Grant funding from several DNREC departments and from the University’s alumni-supported Sustainability Fund have been matched by funding from our college to not only implement environmental protection but to provide a teaching opportunity for students and a demonstration of watershed protection.”

The UD wetland has been utilized as an outdoor classroom by landscape design, landscape construction, ornithology, wildlife management and wildlife ecology students. And it serves a public education function, as well, especially now that it has become a part of the UD Botanic Gardens.

“We offered wetland tours on Earth Day and Ag Day and the public is welcome to take self-guided tours any day from dawn to dusk,” says McDermott. “Wetlands are sometimes seen as a ‘no man’s land.’ We want people to appreciate the positive impact they can have on water quality and the diversity of wildlife they support. Wetlands are incredibly important.”

To learn more, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the UD Botanic Gardens wetland from dawn to dusk daily. The wetland is located on UD’s Farm off Route 896 in Newark, near the Girl Scouts building.

Click here to see the article with photos online on UDaily.

Article by Margo McDonough
Photos by Danielle Quigley

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