For Albany and Hofstra, a true watershed moment

River of dreams: Future scientists from Nassau County are partnering with Hofstra University faculty this summer through the Bay High School Summer Science Research Fellowship.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A new partnership between Albany and Hofstra University is giving Long Island’s scientists of tomorrow a unique opportunity to get their feet wet.

A $240,000 stipend from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery will help the Hempstead-based university launch the Bay High School Summer Science Research Fellowship, an intensive five-week program involving environmental research projects at the Mill River Basin watershed, located along Nassau County’s South Shore.

The first-year program, which pairs some of Long Island’s brightest high-schoolers with Hofstra faculty members, is a function of Rebuild by Design’s Living With the Bay program. Launched in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the Superstorm Sandy recovery effort, Rebuild by Design is a multistage planning and design competition that inspired Living With the Bay, a comprehensive, $125 million South Shore resiliency plan developed by the GOSR.

The Summer Science Research Fellowship is scheduled to run for four consecutive summers beginning with this year’s session, which kicked off July 9. The program is designed to foster independent thought and civic engagement with an environmental-stewardship focus, giving the next generation of environmental scientists “the building blocks with which to start their careers as they learn to preserve and promote their local environment,” according to a statement from the GOSR.

The state-funded Summer Science Research Fellowship is a rejiggering of the Hofstra University Summer Science Research Program, which has long offered regional high schoolers summertime research opportunities in conjunction with university faculty.

Living with the Bay Program Manager Laura Munafo, who serves also as deputy director of the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program, called the scientific summer-vacation effort “an unequalled opportunity” for regional high-school students to “immerse themselves in meaningful, serious academic research and the tutelage of Hofstra University faculty.”

A total of 18 students are participating in this year’s inaugural session. The young scientists, all from Nassau County, hail from high schools in East Rockaway, Hempstead, Lynbrook, Malvern, Oceanside and Rockville Centre – all “schools with significant low-income and minority student populations,” according to the GOSR.

They were selected from the applicant pool based on their academic records and scientific interests, as well as teacher recommendations and one-on-one interviews with program faculty.

Lawrence Levy: Students, start your imaginations.

Through the program, teams of two to four students will work directly with Hofstra faculty in the field and in the classroom, gaining hands-on research experience as they complete what the GOSR described as “discrete research projects” that deepen the understanding of the watershed environment.

On the agenda: monitoring the wetlands’ ecological health, analyzing the flooding effects of storms and other intense rainfalls, assessing public response to infrastructure-resiliency efforts and more “authentic scientific research directly relevant to the watershed,” according to J. Bret Bennington, chairman of Hofstra’s Department of Geology, Environment and Sustainability.

After working through July and August, participants will present their findings at Hofstra University in September.

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies, said in a statement that the days of firing up schoolkids’ imaginations by letting them watch workers at construction sites through fence holes were long over.

“Nowadays, it’s critical to engage students hands-on and to involve them in science-based programs related to important infrastructure projects in their own backyards,” Levy added. “That’s what we intend to facilitate for the next four summers.”