Pace University Scholars: the “Environmental Voice of Youth” will Save NY Harbor

From Digital Platforms to Mock Hearings, University-Level Education Comes to New York City Schools

NEW YORK CITY — Environmental abuse long ago obscured New York Harbor’s bragging rights as the world’s oyster capital, but middle and high school students are the force that can return that ecological luster back to New York City, according to scholars at Pace University in Manhattan.

With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Pace University has launched the next phase of its Smart and Connected Communities program where “university faculty will bring to underserved city schools the research tools and field training to design a new future for New York Harbor,” according to Dr. Lauren Birney, a professor in the Pace School of Education, and principal investigator under the NSF grant.

“Our goal for city students is an educational experience usually confined to universities,” Birney said.  “If the future of the harbor and the national urban environment are in the hands of the experts and decision makers of tomorrow, that means the environmental voice of youth today is essential.  The time to begin their training is now.”

The new Pace initiative uses STEM-C – a cutting-edge curriculum of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math combined with Computing – as the organizing principle for a program of citizen science, ecological restoration and civic engagement. “New York Harbor is an excellent living classroom, but not accessible to every student,” said Birney. “With our online tools and our CCERS Digital Platform, students will conduct field monitoring expeditions, gather data using analog and digital instruments, develop independent research proposals, and broadcast and share their results in real-time – not only with other city students, but with students anywhere in the world.”

Transforming this technical information into a policy model for restoring the Harbor is another hallmark of the Pace program. “Students will also receive training at the hands of our best legal and policy experts,” said John Cronin, Pace’s senior fellow for environmental affairs in the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences. “And through innovative techniques such as virtual town halls and mock public hearings they will develop and present a student-generated vision and plan for restoring the Harbor.”

“All the marine waters of the city are held in a public trust belonging to the people, and that includes students,” said Jason Czarnezki, Associate Dean of Environmental Law Programs at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. “This well-founded, ancient principle of law is the centerpiece of a legal education that will empower students to claim the ecological inheritance that is the birthright of their community. This principle, combined with scientific, technical and computing skills, will make our students a potent force for the future of the urban environment.”


“A networked city is not just a grid of communications and sensors. It is a vision of city governments “engaging with citizens in acts of co-creation.” –Peter Hirshberg (Bollier, 2016 from the Aspen Institute, 2016).

This thought and overall vision continues to serve as our motto in creating opportunities for underserved students that may have never existed.  We look to engage our youth in environmentally meaningful activities that are pertinent to their education. New York City middle school students are in desperate need of exposure to STEM industry fields, research and data collection at the Harbor’s edge and training on the use various technological innovations.  This grant will create these opportunities for students, citizen scientists, STEM Industry professionals, research faculty and community members to work in unison on achieving a “smarter and more connected community”!

“Expanding Access and Deepening Engagement: Building an Open Source Digital Platform for Restoration-Based STEM Education in the Largest Public School System in the United States” NSF DRL 1643016/PI Lauren Birney, Director of the STEM Collaboratory NYC, Pace University


The CCERS leadership team consists of Samuel Janis, Program Manager Billion Oyster Project Schools and Citizen Science, Jonathan Hill, Dean of Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, Robert Newton, Research Scientist at Columbia Lamont Doherty Observatory, Meghan Groome, Senior Vice President of Education at the New York Academy of Sciences, Nancy Woods, Director of Technology and Engineering at the NYCDOE, Peter Malinowski, President Billion Oyster Project and Murray Fisher, President of the New York Harbor Foundation and is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Lauren Birney, Assistant Professor and Director of the STEM Collaboratory NYC Pace University.

Project Goal

The foundational goal of the Curriculum and Community Enterprise for Restoration Science (CCERS) model is to build a “Smart and Connected Community” of students, educators, scientists, and engaged community members all working to restore New York Harbor and improve the quality of STEM-C education and long-term outcomes in low-income urban public schools. To do this, we are building an open source educational-scientific web platform which can be replicated anywhere. The connectivity provided by this technology allows communication, education, business, STEM industry professional to work seamlessly together while expanding their research on a global scale.

The CCERS Digital Platform

The CCERS Digital Platform, co-developed with Fearless Solutions, is more than just a website for student-led citizen science, citizen policymaking, and teacher-to-teacher curriculum sharing. The CCERS supported Billion Oyster Project schools web platform is a digital space for students to conduct field monitoring expeditions, gather data using both analog and digital instruments, analyze results using multivariate statistics and GIS, develop independent research proposals, broadcast, and share results in real-time with the broader NY Harbor/CCERS community of scientists, STEM professionals, and volunteers. The digital platform is also a replicable model of restoration based science education for other settings and other species, with its underlying technology and source code freely available through standard open source licensing agreements.

CCERS – Curriculum and Community Enterprise for Restoration Science

This proposal focuses upon the expansion of the existing “Curriculum and Community Enterprise for the Restoration of New York Harbor in New York City Public Schools”  NSF DRL 1440869. This project is recognized locally as “Curriculum and Community Enterprise for Restoration Science,” or CCERS. CCERS is a comprehensive model of ecological restoration based STEM education for urban public school students. Following an accelerated rollout, CCERS is now being implemented in 23 Title 1 funded NYC Department of Education middle schools, led by two cohorts of 33 teachers, serving more than 3000 students in total. Initial results and baseline data suggest that the CCERS model, with the Billion Oyster Project (BOP) as its local restoration ecology-based STEM curriculum, is having profound impacts on students, teachers, school leaders, and the broader community of CCERS participants and stakeholders. Students and teachers report being receptive to the CCERS model and deeply engaged in the initial phase of curriculum development, citizen science data collection, and student-centered STEM learning.



Funding for these Projects has been provided by the National Science Foundation Education and Human Resources (EHR) DRL 1440869 and DRL 1643016.





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