Linking Kids to the Bay
“It’s really rewarding when a student or community volunteer has an ‘aha’ moment about the environment,” says Laura Cattell Noll, a 2009 environmental science graduate.
Cattell Noll, who also studied peacebuilding at EMU, is engaging students in community-based wetland restoration projects that build awareness of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
A conservation technician, she works within the Chesapeake Bay Initiative of the Conservation Department at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
“The projects are ‘community-based’ because we engage volunteers from the local area in the actual planting of the sites,” said Cattell Noll. “The idea is community members who help restore a wetland become invested in that site and want to protect it.”
She says EMU taught her that each of us can make everyday choices that help our natural environment.
Life after EMU
After graduating with a degree in environmental science, Cattell Noll began working with AmeriCorps in the Maryland Conservation Corps, assisting with several National Aquarium projects. When her two-year commitment was finished, Cattell Noll started an internship at the aquarium, which eventually led to a full-time position.
“When I talk to kids and other community members about environmental issues, I try to offer concrete steps that people can take in their everyday lives.”
Cattell Noll says she tries to not focus too much on “doom and gloom” concepts because people will not be motivated to make changes. Instead, she takes lessons learned from her time at EMU and weaves them into her presentations.
in the field
Laura Cattell Noll, a Maryland Conservation Corps team leader at the time, clears a fallen tree from a trail at Patapsco Valley State Park in 2011. Her work included trail maintenance, environmental education, invasive species removal, planting trees, and summer work program for city youth. Laura majored in environmental science at EMU.
“At EMU, I learned a lot about the day-to-day changes that I, as an individual, can make to improve our environment,” said Cattell Noll, a bi-national winner of the 2009 C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest. “I regularly encourage students to learn about and try recycling, composting, gardening and biking – ideas that I became intimately familiar with as a student.”
Original research in the field
While juniors at EMU, Cattell Noll and classmate Allison Glick presented research findings on water treatment and pesticide use in Cambodia at a research conference in Pennsylvania. They were part of a student group that traveled with biology professor Doug Graber-Neufeld to Cambodia and Thailand to research water sanitation and quality.
Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, the research project was designed to give undergraduates experience doing research overseas. The goal, Graber-Neufeld said, was “to show students how science is done in a culture very different from their own.
“Our hope is that in the future, if they pursue science careers, these students will have a broader concept of how science is relevant beyond our own borders and how it can be used for the ‘public good’ in the broadest sense.”
An outdoor classroom
Cattell Noll now works specifically with students from the Terrapins in the Classroom and the Wetland Nursery Programs. In both programs, students are involved from start-to-finish in the project, raising fish and/or grasses in their schoolyard or feeding and measuring terrapins.
“The terrapin project is part of a larger research initiative to see if this ‘head start’ year helps increase survival rates of the diamondback terrapin,” said Cattell Noll.
peace contest winner
Cattell Noll said her team monitors the sites for months and sometimes years after the initial project is finished.
“It’s really rewarding when a student or community volunteer has an ‘aha’ moment about the environment,” said Cattell Noll. “We hope the act of giving back to their local ecosystem inspires a personal shift towards stewardship of the environment.”
Not a typical job
When Cattell Noll is not visiting classrooms or leading initiatives, she’s involved in seasonal projects – planning for terrapin release and large-scale community restoration and plantings in upstate New York, Maryland’s eastern shore and Virginia Beach, among others.
“There is no such thing as a ‘routine’ day for me!”
While the manual labor and extensive work out of state can wear on anyone, Cattell Noll finds her most satisfying moments are when “the students become the teachers.”
“When we explained to one group of students that rainwater washes trash into the storm drains and then into the Bay, they were astounded,” said Cattell Noll. “A few months later, when we were planting grasses one student wondered aloud how all the trash got there. Before I could answer, all the kids were yelling, ‘Don’t you remember? It comes from the storm drains!’
“It’s rewarding to know that the message is getting through.”
Learn more about sustainability at EMU
- Environmental science and social sustainability major
- Sustainability initiatives on campus
- Peacebuilding on campus
- Peacebuilding and development major
(Photos of Laura Cattell Noll with student community workers are provided courtesy of the National Aquarium.)