This month’s member feature highlights an educator who blends her love of research and practice into her work and academic goals. If you’ve ever met Sagan Goodpaster, you know she is extremely passionate and positive about environmental education and the difference it can make in the lives of students, teachers, and families. We recently had the opportunity to chat with her about some of her EE hopes, dreams, and realities. Guest interview featuring KAEE member Sagan Goodpaster, University of Kentucky STEM Education Graduate Research Assistant KAEE: What is your current role in the field of EE? Sagan: I am currently working as a Graduate Research Assistant in STEM Education at the University of Kentucky as part of an NIH-grant-funded project entitled “Wastewater Assessment for Coronavirus in Kentucky: Implementing Enhanced Surveillance Technology (WACKIEST).” This grant project is a joint effort among the College of Public Health, College of Engineering, College of Medicine, and College of Education at UK. The overall goal of this project is to utilize wastewater testing to detect the presence of COVID-19 in eastern Kentucky communities where access to testing is limited. Because public sewer systems are not feasible in more rural areas, some of these communities have relatively high concentrations of failing septic systems and/or straight pipes for sewage removal. Members of our team are thus working to adapt their wastewater testing procedures to include creek sampling in affected waterways. Dr. Sahar Alameh, a co-investigator on this project, and I are developing a middle- and high-school curriculum based on the WACKIEST project. The goal of our study is to engage Kentucky students in science concepts involving topics that are currently in the news. Through various curriculum activities, students will learn how viruses work and how the coronavirus spreads, use online simulations to investigate factors that influence viral transmission, experience the steps involved in wastewater testing, and develop a report for local public health officials about wastewater testing for COVID-19. Our plan is to implement and test this curriculum starting next academic year in at least four schools. KAEE: What projects or programs are you working on that particularly inspire you? Sagan: In addition to the WACKIEST project, I am completing my dissertation exploring elementary teachers’ use of outdoor spaces for science instruction. I have been fortunate to meet and interview several incredible educators through this project who have greatly inspired me. I strongly believe in the importance of getting kids outside and actively engaged with their surroundings. Ample research exists showing the mental, physical, and academic benefits of doing so, but there can also be a variety of hurdles that make taking students outside difficult. Getting to learn from the teachers who are currently doing this is such an exciting and enlightening experience. I am currently developing a survey based on their insights that will help me gather more teachers’ perspectives. I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned in the near future! KAEE: What goals do you have for your organization or programs within the EE field? Sagan: One of my biggest goals is simply to give more kids opportunities to engage in outdoor learning. As part of this goal, I want to help support teachers who are interested in utilizing outdoor spaces. I also want to help integrate EE, particularly outdoor learning, into more teacher education programs. There are certainly some programs and/or faculty members doing this, but there is also room for growth! My conversations with teachers and the existing research in EE all point to this need. Not only could it help more teachers incorporate EE in their classrooms, but it could also help develop a wider network of administrators who understand the benefits of EE in schools. KAEE: What is an area you feel you could use support in from this network of fellow educators? Sagan: I am always excited to build relationships with educators working in EE and to learn from their experiences. KAEE has already introduced me to so many wonderful people who are doing great things in the field of Environmental Education. I would love to continue making connections with anyone who can help with my goal of supporting teachers in implementing outdoor learning.
KAEE: What is something you feel could be beneficial to share with this network? Sagan: I really love developing science lessons integrating place-based outdoor learning opportunities that engage students in science practices. I’ve developed lessons that do this with some of the STEM Education faculty at UK, and I would be happy to share them. I would also love to collaborate with others who might have similar interests! KAEE: Share a fun fact or random tidbit about yourself with the group! Sagan: Before I started teaching I was involved in ornithology research. I did a study on nestling Chimney Swifts for my Master’s thesis that was such a fun experience. My former students and even some of my colleagues have fondly referred to me as ‘the bird lady’ because whether I’m explaining biological concepts or developing lesson plans, I always seem to fall back on my bird knowledge!