Creek Connections, an outreach program of Allegheny College which works with Middle and High Schools to study their local waterways, hosted the 2021 Student Research Symposium in partnership with 16 Middle and High Schools in the area.
Annually, Creek Connections partners with 40 different secondary schools and 50 different teachers with the goal of providing hands on, inquiry based investigation of local waterways, according to the website developed for the symposium.
While the symposium is typically held in-person, this year it went virtual, but that did not limit its success and reach, according to Kedzierski.
“I knew the week before the symposium was live, I said, ‘We just created a monster,’ because I knew as soon as I saw what things looked like, that it was going really well, that the teachers would want to do both,” Kedzierski said.
Kedzierski also felt that the virtual symposium allowed for more people to be involved, from the partner organizations to enabling more students to be involved in the symposium.
Additionally, the virtual nature of the symposium allowed for college students, known as “Creekers,” to be involved through interacting online which had never happened before, according to Kedzierski.
The symposium includes projects done by Middle and High School students in the Western Pennsylvania region. Due to the virtual nature of the symposium, many presentations were recorded and used a variety of different methods to share information on a variety of environmental topics, often with an eye towards local waterways and the species that inhabit them.
William Toliver Jr., ’14, was the keynote speaker for the symposium.
Toliver is a Pittsburgh-based environmental educator who received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Environmental Studies from Allegheny in 2014. In 2018 Toliver was recognized as an Early Learning Champion by PBS Kids, and is now a Commissioner on Pittsburgh’s Commission on Human Relations.
Toliver also worked for Creek Connections during his time in college.
“First, I want to acknowledge and say thank you to all of you, students and educators alike, not only for the work you’ve done with Creek Connections, but also for your commitment to education this past year,” Toliver said. “The things we’ve had to endure and sacrifice are unprecedented, and it’s your perseverance that has inspired hope around the world.”
Toliver’s keynote speech focused on his own experience with Creek Connections and how it helped him build a unique relationship with nature.
“This is my reminder from me to you for the 2021 Creeck Connections Symposium,” Toliver said. “Remember that over the summer as things gain some sense of normalcy back, remember to connect with yourself, remember to connect with the people around you and connect with the earth.”
Beyond the student projects, there were also activities for symposium attendees. These activities were done through partnership with a host of organizations including the French Creek Valley Conservancy, Allegheny County Parks and the Drake Well Museum and Park.
Also, in partnership with other organizations, the symposium webpage has a website dedicated to potential career opportunities in the environmental field. The Eco-Careers on this webpage included environmental educators, park rangers, firefighters and managers of environmental organizations.
Among the participants were Allegheny professors Jesse Swann-Quinn and Eric Pallant.
“The best part of the job is interacting with students and teaching students how to think for themselves, how to be the next group of actors who will go out and save the world,” Pallant said in an interview posted in the Eco-Careers section of the symposium website.
Swann-Quinn spoke to the different ways in which environmental topics can be approached.
“There are so many ways you can think about and work with the world around you including all of the natural world and people and communities that are a part of (the natural world),” Swann-Quinn said in a recorded speech for the Eco-Careers section.
Swann-Quinn also highlighted how ecology, geography, politics, film and media studies have all played a role in his career development.
Kedzierski credits the efforts of the current Creek Connections team in the success of the virtual symposium.
“The college students got really good at creating videos, editing videos and creating that content for the symposium, so it really was the Allegheny Students that made it successful, and made it so professional,” Kedzierski said.
Kedzierski also noted that there was no outside help on the website created to host the virtual symposium.
“When people look at the website they ask who we had do it for us, and it was us, and we are not computer science majors,” Kedzierski said.
Overall the symposium was a success despite the new, virtual format.
“More people were able to be involved because it was online, both our partner organizations and the students,” Kedzierski said.