Q & A with SSP Fellow Dominique Evans-Bye
Dominique Evans-Bye, a 2011 SSP Fellow, is a biology and geographic information systems (GIS) teacher at Clark Magnet High School in La Crescenta, CA. Students from her school recently won the Lexus Eco Challenge.
What made you decide to apply to be a Society for Science & the Public (SSP) Fellow?
I applied to be a SSP Fellow in order to give my students the best research experience possible. I look forward to the valuable training, mentorship, and peer support that I will receive through the program. A research stipend was a top motivating factor to ensure my program is sustainable through these tough economic times.
What first drew you to science?
My background is in marine biology and geographic information systems science. As a child, any show on TV about animals was, for me, a source of great entertainment. I bred hamsters to predict the color variations that would be produced by different crosses. I was especially fascinated by the marine environment and could hardly wait until I was old enough to enroll in a scuba diving certification program.
How has being a SSP Fellow impacted your ability to develop a research program?
I value the experience I’ve had as an SSP Fellow. Project management was an area I wanted to grow in, and SSP gave me the opportunity to expand my knowledge in that area and gave me the experience I needed to set up my own project management plan. Having a plan has helped me give my students research opportunities that they normally would not have until graduate school.
What activities have your students participated in?
My students have enjoyed the positive response their projects have garnered at community events. They have presented posters and displays at “GIS Day,” at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works headquarters, the Western Society of Naturalists (WSN) Annual Meeting, Clark Magnet High School’s o pen house, the Los Angeles County Science Fair, the California State University, Northridge Student Research Symposium, and to the Glendale Unified School Board. They have entered their projects in competitions such as the WSN poster symposium, Los Angeles County Science Fair, Lexus Eco Challenge, Siemen’s, QuikScience Challenge, and Thacher Environmental Research Contest.
How has the support you offered impacted students and the broader community?
I have watched my students gain confidence in their abilities and I’ve watched that confidence grow immensely. My students’ parents have expressed their gratitude for the opportunities that have opened up for my students who are involved with the programs I have to offer.
What advice would you have for other individuals attempting to increase interest in science in their communities and nurture students through the research process?
Support from the school’s administration is critical. An educator must have the flexibility to structure a class or a school program around scientific research. The administrators need to allow students to take trips for field work, travel to competitions, and miss a class or two to concentrate on meeting a deadline. Promoting competitions around environmental issues or robotics engineering seems to interest students most. You have to do a lot of marketing to bring in enough students to make the program viable to run. I’ve created a series of science elective courses with an emphasis on research. The program should be structured in levels so students get credit for a new class each year they sign up. There must be a balance between the rigor of the class and fun. I set minimum requirements, and leave it up to the student to put in the extra effort to reap the benefits competitions offer. That seems to take a lot of the pressure off the students and as a result, most will rise to the challenge.
Do you have any advice for young students interested in pursuing science?
Students will be more likely to pursue higher education and a career path in science if they have the knowledge, experience, and some early success in the field. My advice to students is to look past the worksheets and end of the chapter questions. Science is setting up your own experimental design, working in the field or laboratory to gather data and observations, performing your own data analysis, and then communicating your findings. Science allows you to express your creativity. In science, you can be part of a team working to solve some of the world’s most important and complex mysteries. My advice to students is to consistently push yourself. Don’t just take the easiest classes or do only the minimum requirements for graduation. Take those harder math classes you don’t think you’ll need. Set yourself up early to have an easier time in college, and then set a clear path to graduation. Plan on going to graduate school. Get experience through volunteer work and internships. Apply for lots of scholarships and keep applying every year. Build a resume as you go.
What are your future plans?
I will be working with the Coastal Marine BioLabs during the coming summer, to bring the “Barcoding Life’s Matrix” program to my Marine Science Research class. My students will be extracting and analyzing DNA of local marine life to upload to a growing online database of genetic information of species on our planet. This will be another component of the ongoing project mapping the abundance and distribution of marine life in the Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary using ArcGIS.
Your students recently competed at the Lexus Eco-Challenge. Can you describe that experience?
My second-year GIS students were tasked to investigate an environmental issue and create a research project focusing on the issue they chose. Out of four projects submitted by my student teams, one won the regional Air/Climate Challenge, then went on to take First Place in the Lexus Eco Challenge. The winning project used spatial analysis and spatial statistics in ArcGIS on ozone smog data from the Environmental Protection Agency to analyze patterns of ozone smog pollution in California.
The Lexus Eco Challenge is geared toward community involvement and environmental activism. They want students to make a difference in the environment through their actions. Students love doing that because they feel empowered when their efforts lead to positive outcomes. In the ozone smog project, students identified a problem and then promoted a solution to use less fossil fuels in order to decrease smog leve ls.
My other team did some amazing projects as well. One project used GIS to model sea level rise. FEMA’s Hazus- MH software was used to estimate economic loss in the areas flooded by a 20-foot increase in sea level. They found huge impacts in Sacramento, the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach, Marina Dey Rey, and Los Alamitos Bay.
I have found that the team format works great for students. They enjoy the camaraderie and can progress their project much further than when working alone. A big weakness that my teams seem to fall into is that they don’t fully understand the role of each team member or how that role fits in the project. That has been a major obstacle for success in science competitions for my students. I think this can be avoided with a more equitable division of tasks. I’ve suggested this to the teams, but have taken a more hands-off approach to allow the team leader and the teams themselves to decide the details of their projects. In the future, I will have more structured requirements. People tend to gravitate towards their strengths. The main goal, however, is to encourage students to continue with their education, not just win a contest. Each team member needs to know every part of the project they have worked on.
About the SSP Fellowship- Each year, ten top U.S. high school science and math teachers are selected by SSP as Fellows based on their unique plans to reach students in underserved communities and inspire excellence in independent scientific research. Funded by Intel, the program includes a stipend, ongoing training and resources, and attendance at the Fellows Institute in Washington, DC.