Coastal erosion, restocking/restaffing businesses, protecting critical infrastructure, and housing important city records were just a few of the challenges local high-school students were posed with during the Student Stewardship Summit held at The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Lab’s (GCRL) Field Studies Building in March.
Juniors and seniors from Pascagoula High School and Gautier High School in Mississippi were assigned a problem that cities have to deal with after coastal storms and were tasked with proposing a solution. They then created a display to showcase their solutions and presented them to judges. Their judges were mayors, city planners, floodplain managers, university professors and other resilience specialists who have greatly contributed to coastal resilience. A similar competition was held in December at GCRL's Cedar Point campus.
The scenarios were based upon the Coastal Community Resilience Index (CRI), a self-assessment communities can complete to determine their vulnerabilities and strengths prior to the next storm. The summit was made possible through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) grant led by Dr. Jessica Kastler who is also part of our Sea Grant education team.
Dr. Kastler and her team worked with the teachers in the two high schools throughout the fall and spring semesters. They presented on a variety of topics, such as sea level rise mapping and scenarios, online decision support tools, the National Flood Insurance Program and storm surge. Then, students were tasked with one final culminating project, which included coming up with solutions to the real-world scenarios (all of which were based on events following Hurricane Katrina (2005)).
My involvement as an extension specialist included drafting scenarios based on the CRI, a tool I use with local governments. I was also able to use my connections with local government officials in Pascagoula, Gautier and Biloxi to identify judges for the competition.
The event is a shining example of how our extension and education specialists work together within Sea Grant to bridge the gap between current research and practice at all age levels. I was encouraged by some of the projects I judged. These students were only 4 and 5 years old during Hurricane Katrina, and many of them were directly impacted by the storm.
They recognized the significance of the problems they were given and worked to identify creative solutions communities can take to be proactive in the face of the next disaster. These students will be the next land-use planners, policy makers, business owners, floodplain managers and research scientists. This event was not just an educational experience, but an investment in our future decision makers.
In May, Dr. Kastler shared the project with an adult audience at the Climate and Resilience Community of Practice meeting during the Tools Café. The ability to share ideas across sectors, and in this case age groups, provides a more generational approach to solving problems at a local level.