Academy for Environment to begin 'Roadside Heritage' project

6/7/2007 7:00:00 AM

One of the West's most scenic drives has become even more dramatic with the news that the University of Nevada, Reno's Academy for the Environment and the College of Education's Raggio Research Center have received a $2.5 million National Science Foundation grant to develop an interpretive "Roadside Heritage" program for the communities of the Eastern Sierra.

The grant will provide travelers on the 220-mile Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway along Highway 395 South with interpretive audio programs detailing the region's cultural, historic and scientific history, as well as an after-school program for middle school students from communities along the Eastern Sierra.

The students will learn to use digital recording equipment and interview scientists and local experts who have studied the region and whose stories will be told through the grant's activities. The resulting "e-stories" will be distributed via a variety of platforms, including the production of a CD, and podcasts via the Roadside Heritage website.

The informal science heritage series is intended to engage motorists and encourage them to learn more at local destinations, festivals and tourist information centers.

"Once we get these programs started, people will be able to learn more about the region they are driving through and plan their stops based on what aspect of the local history or science heritage capture their imagination," said Mike Collopy, executive director of the Academy for the Environment. "Visitors to the Eastern Sierra will learn about early explorers and pioneers who first came to the area, or how the local communities developed and why they are located where they are.

"Perhaps most importantly, we hope to develop a series of programs that will engender a strong sense of pride in the local communities of the Eastern Sierra regarding their science, and their history. This program also will inform the public about how science conducted in this truly remarkable, truly beautiful area, has touched all of their lives ... in ways they've probably never imagined."

The program is a collaboration of the Academy for the Environment, the University's Raggio Research Center for STEM Education, along with their partners at the Eastern Sierra Institute for Collaborative Education, and the University of California at Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science.

"It's also the product of an engaged and insightful advisory committee from the Eastern Sierra," said Collopy, noting that the advisory committee and other local stakeholders have helped to develop dozens of possible audio "stories," from which a list of 13 will be selected. Production of the first handful of stories will begin this summer. "The advisory committee and other stakeholders from the communities of the Eastern Sierra have been instrumental in the success of this project. I'm very proud of the fact that there is strong local input regarding each program's content, and the message it will be sharing with listeners."

Collopy cited the student component of the project as just one example of the program's strong local ties.

"A series of after-school classes will be taught in different communities in Mono and Inyo counties," he said. "The subjects of these courses will match up with the audio programs that will be produced by the project. Students will play a big role in helping to ask questions of scientists and develop material that can be used in the podcasts.

"During each course, participating middle school students will learn how to use digital recording equipment, as well as how to interview subjects who have been done active research or are experts on the area's science or history. Experts from the Lawrence Hall of Science will work with this information to craft a storyline that will be professionally produced in a CD, and podcast format.

"It will be a project that will entertain and educate."

Jacque Ewing-Taylor, STEM education projects manager at the University's Raggio Center who is co-principal investigator for the project along with Collopy, said that the project will significantly add to the knowledge base of the region, as well as for the thousands of motorists who drive this scenic highway.

It's a drive that stretches from the shadow of the Nevada border at Topaz Lake through the high country of June and Mammoth Lakes to the Owens Valley and regal Mount Whitney and the outer edges of the Mojave Desert at Little Lake.

"The natural appeal of this area makes it easy to attract people to an educational experience and, we hope, to an increased curiosity about science," she said. "This area has a very rich scientific heritage that we think young people will find fascinating."

The variety of technological platforms used for the program will help reinforce learning in real and lasting ways, Ewing-Taylor added.

"We are appealing to students with the technologies they use every day," she said. "Their parents may not be familiar or comfortable with podcasts ... but the kids in that car sure are!"

William Sparkman, dean of the College of Education, where the Raggio Center is located, said the Roadside Heritage program is yet another example of the University and its partners finding ways to transport learning to Nevada's neighboring rural communities.

"There are few things as important as helping students learn and prepare for a bright future," Sparkman said. "The Heritage Project allows College of Education faculty to participate in the development and delivery of new teaching opportunities. We hope this project increases recognition that learning can take place in non-traditional settings and that driving through the Eastern Sierra can heighten a student's interest in history, culture, geography and science."

Collopy said that to the best of his knowledge, the program is unique. It is a blending of interpretive scientific and historical audio programming, use of school students in creating content and to serve as docents, production of mobile "festival" kits that will be transported to major events throughout the region to further the exchange of knowledge, as well as the multitude of electronic platforms that will be used.

CD's will be available through visitor centers, motels and hotels and MP3 downloads will be available via kiosks or from the soon-to-be-developed Roadside Heritage website. Motorists will be able to tune their radios to a certain frequency for the scientific and historic programming.

"We've tried to create a model that can be exported to the rest of the country," Collopy said. "There are many other audio tours dealing with cultural or historic issues, but we believe this is the very first one that is based on a region's science heritage.

"It's going to be entertaining and educational for families that drive through this beautiful area. It will be a reminder that there have been some truly remarkable things happening, for thousands of years, along the Eastern Sierra.

"And, let's face it: for some parents, it could prove to be the best distraction imaginable for those noisy kids that are in their backseat."


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