K-12 Educational Outreach

Erica Smithwick is a principal investigator on Carbon EARTH, Carbon Educators and Researchers Together for Humanity. The project is part of a National Science Foundation GK-12 grant designed to team Penn State Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduate students with elementary and middle school science teachers from Philipsburg-Osceola and Harrisburg school districts. The STEM graduate fellows will work with the science teachers to enhance their curriculum on carbon-related themes like geography, astronomy, physics, and more.

Undergraduate advising coordinator and Ph.D. candidate Jodi Vender has coordinated the Pennsylvania Geographic Bee since 2001, which has been held at Penn State since 2009. The bee is the state-level competition of the National Geographic Bee for students in grades 4-8. Department students, faculty, staff, and alumni assist as volunteers.

Assistant Professor Petra Tschakert is the principal investigator on ReBuild, a project that aims to link human disease with landscape disturbances and climate change. The project will look at case studies of Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus in Pennsylvania to research incidences of buruli ulcer in Ghana. The project joins Penn State scientists including Tschakert, assistant professor Erica Smithwick, and researcher Heidi Hausermann with science teachers and students in the Penns Valley Area School District to explore complex systems science.

The department has worked with the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Office of Educational Equity to provide outreach activities to underrepresented students and their teachers:

  • Each summer, the College of EMS collaborates with the Fattah Learning Lab: Science Skills on Wheels to offer hands-on workshops with Philadelphia middle school students; different departments, including geography, conduct activities each day.
  • Each summer, The College of EMS hosts seventh- and eighth-grade students visiting from Washington, D.C.’s Higher Achievement Program, and geography staff and alumni have conducted hands-on workshops.
  • Geography staff and undergraduates conducted a GIS workshop for the Philadelphia Academies’ visit in the summer of 2010.
  • In collaboration with the Pennsylvania Alliance for Geographic Education, of which Jodi Vender is a current steering committee member and past co-coordinator, the department does outreach to K-12 teachers and students. For example, the department has done geography workshops for local elementary and middle school teachers for Saturday Science through the College of Education’s Center for Science and the Schools (CSATS).
  • The department has participated in “Expanding Your Horizons," an annual one-day camp for girls, teachers, and parents -- sponsored by the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Institute.
  • Jodi Vender, along with middle school teachers Lisa Draper (Nitschmann Middle School, Bethlehem) and Kristy Snider (Clear Run Intermediate School, Tobyhanna), are Pennsylvania’s state coordinators for Geography Awareness Week (GAW). The department has offered programs for teachers and students in preparation for GAW.