Since I was a little kid, I’ve known I wanted to study the sciences. I always pictured myself in a lab coat, silently working away until I found a cure for cancer. I never understood the often gritty, behind-the-scenes jobs required for science to be useful. My freshman year I started on a simple citizen science project with my friends, collecting basic water quality data from Elk Creek for Colorado River Watch. I never thought about how this data could be used to educate or change the world. That is, until I was put into touch with Wild Rose Education’s Sarah Johnson and learned about the Youth Water Leadership Program.
The following year, 2017, my friends and I created an entire independent research project, educating a primarily up-valley audience about a New Castle stream and the issues that it faces. I had never really shared research outside of a school setting before, so it was terrifying. I stood on stage, petrified as an audience of people from local high schools as well as local environmental groups listened intently. But when I began to talk and saw their interest and engaged with them in their questions, I truly began to understand why involving citizens in science is so important. Without this event, youth from Aspen wouldn’t know about the impact of mining on a creek in New Castle. Without this event, I never would have known about issues upstream, facing the Roaring Fork Watershed.
In 2018, with my newfound confidence, I wanted to take it one step further and help organize the Summit. The work I did was not the lab coat and pipette kind that science often gets portrayed as. Instead, it was calling keynote speakers, giving introductions, setting a master schedule, and figuring out water bottle designs, all of which were essential to allowing the data collected to be shared. I never really understood the fact that for every hour of scientific data collection, hundreds of hours of organization has to be put in to make the data meaningful.
I think this is something that more people going into the sciences need to understand: you could have the best designed study in the world that has the potential to completely revolutionize your field, but if you can’t communicate your thoughts or coordinate events like the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit, then you won’t be as successful.
Often the lack of communication has to do with how science classes are taught. Too often science is purely in the classroom, with academic lectures and memorization. Of course factual scientific knowledge is important, but getting classes outside and engaging with their communities helps teach these skills, made more important by the Age of Misinformation we are in today.
I truly hope that every student can have an experience like the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit to truly appreciate the behind-the-scenes efforts so critical to making the world work.