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Grant brings earth science alive for K-12 students, teachers

Aug. 15, 2008

KALAMAZOO--A $195,000 grant from the DTE Energy Foundation to Western Michigan University's Core Kids outreach program is bringing earth science alive for Michigan's elementary, middle and high school students as well as their teachers.

The three-year grant was awarded in January to support the development of educational modules that explore the state's geology and natural resources. They are being designed at WMU's Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education, which is part of the University's Department of Geosciences.

MGRRE faculty and staff created Core Kids to help bridge the gap between the public and scientists involved in energy and earth science studies, says Susan F. Grammer, MGRRE education outreach coordinator.

"Students and teachers who participate in Core Kids activities learn about the origin, development and efficient use of geological natural resources such as groundwater, oil, natural gas and minerals--resources that are essential to our quality of life," Grammer says. "They also gain a better understanding of the age of the Earth and the changes that have taken place on Earth over time--two concepts that are vital in developing science literacy and identifying processes that policy leaders must consider when dealing with national energy and environmental issues."

Core Kids is one of three key programs funded by the DTE Energy Foundation to support environmental and science education in Michigan. The foundation also provides support to the DTE Energy Freshwater Institute for Teachers at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City and DTE Energy Water on the Go at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills.

"Through our support of these programs, the DTE Energy Foundation is helping to enrich science curriculums for students throughout the communities we serve," says Fred Shell, DTE Energy vice president of corporate and government affairs and president of the DTE Energy Foundation.

"Core Kids does an outstanding job of leading participants through an engaging exploration of energy and earth science," Shell adds. "The DTE Energy Foundation is very pleased to play a part in bringing this exciting program to Michigan students and teachers."

Core Kids seeks to facilitate interactions between scientists and school-age children and channel children's natural curiosity about the world around them into a desire for understanding Earth's resources and processes. It also aims to get more children interested in earth-science careers and encourages all students to become knowledgeable citizens who can incorporate accurate earth science-related concepts into their decision making.

In order to meet those goals, MGRRE is using the DTE Energy Foundation grant to create dynamic regionalized learning modules for K-12 students. The modules incorporate tangible, real-world experiences with subsurface data, and rock and sediment samples to simulate what geologists and engineers do when looking for and managing water, oil and natural gas resources.

The grant also is being used to host field trips for high school students, create museum-quality displays for loan to schools and community groups, develop workshops for K-12 teachers, and host teacher workshops by earth science and education professional organizations. In addition, some grant funds will help Core Kids staff to initiate a statewide "earth scientist in the classroom" program that will link K-12 educators and professionals in energy and earth science fields.

"Through our programs, students living close to WMU will be able to physically touch and examine their own region's subsurface rocks and rock data. They'll learn how their region's subsurface formed and why this knowledge is critical in efforts to sequester greenhouse gases and address other environmental or energy needs," Grammer says. "Teachers in other parts of the state will be able to access the Core Kids' Web site to find resources about their region's rocks and, in some cases, will be able to borrow rock samples from us to show to their students."

Since receiving the DTE Energy Foundation grant, MGRRE personnel and their associates have made presentations in more than 40 southwest Michigan classrooms, opened up MGRRE's facilities to numerous school groups, and developed a variety of interesting and innovative earth science-based materials for both students and teachers. They also have taken to the road, exhibiting at gatherings of the National Science Teachers Association, Michigan Science Teachers Association and Michigan Earth Science Teachers Association.

"We've accomplished a lot already, thanks to the help of many earth science professionals as well as WMU students and alumni," Grammer says. "For example, one WMU geosciences graduate is adapting our hydrogeology presentation for posting on the Web so that teachers around Michigan can use real drilling data to map the subsurface in their own communities. Meanwhile, our new outreach assistant is preparing video clips for the Web site that show some of the activities we've done with students."

MGRRE houses the state's most comprehensive archives of Michigan geological samples and data. The facility functions as a primary location for research and technology transfer related to water resources, petroleum geology, carbon dioxide sequestration and, in conjunction with other faculty in WMU's geosciences department, environmental topics such as groundwater management and bluff erosion along the Great Lakes. Its educational activities include K-16 and post-graduate classroom training and public outreach related to natural resources and the environment.

DTE Energy is one of the nation's largest diversified energy companies. Headquartered in Detroit, it is involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services nationwide. DTE's largest operating units are Detroit Edison, an electric utility serving 2.2 million customers in southeastern Michigan, and MichCon, a natural gas utility serving 1.3 million customers around the state.

The DTE Energy Foundation is the philanthropic arm of DTE Energy. The foundation directs its contributions and involvement to support initiatives dedicated to developing the human and economic potential of the communities it serves. Grants are awarded under the foundation's "LEAD" guidelines: leadership, education, environment, achievement, development and diversity in the DTE Energy service territory, which includes southeastern, western and northern Michigan.

For more information about the Core Kids outreach program, visit the program's Web site at wmich.edu/corekids, or contact WMU's Susan Grammer at susan.grammer@wmich.edu or (269) 387-8642. For more information about the DTE Energy Foundation, visit the foundation's Web site at dteenergy.com.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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