GM team helps STEM program

overview of the students searching the creek for wildlife in the environmental event at Mill Creek Park Wednesday morning.

YOUNGSTOWN — A beautiful autum morning was a good time to get out of the classroom Wednesday for about 30 eighth-graders from the STEM program at Chaney High School.

The field trip took the class to the Birch Hill Cabin in Mill Creek Park to be a part of an education outreach event sponsored by the General Motors Lordstown Environmental Team, along with its non-profit partner EarthForce.

The Youngstown students, led by STEM teacher Sharon Ragan, split into two groups for the two-hour session.

For the first hour, about half headed to a nearby stream to collect water samples and identify insects and wildlife inhabitants, while the rest stayed behind in the cabin to test the chemicals in the  water.

Maia Hoffman of Howland, the associate environmental engineer who led the four-person GM team, said testing water quality was part of her job at the Lordstown complex, which buys its water from the city of Warren.

“We use a lot of water at the paint shop, and we have to constantly monitor the water discharge that is sent back to Warren,” said Hoffman, who has worked at the auto plant for a little over a year.

Other members of the GM team were environmental engineer Gerald King, human resource business partner Jennifer Tremayne and GM labor relations representative Daniel Green.

Streamside, the students identified the insects and wildlife with the help of Kathi Vrable of Canfield, a representative of the Mahoning County Soil and Water Conservation District. The students put the critters into egg cartons, and other soil samples and leaves were spread across a series of tarps. Vrable provided large charts to help with the identification process, while water samples were scooped up into jars by students wearing wading boots .

“Make sure you record everything,” Vrable shouted to the students hovering over the tarps filled with leaves and dirt.

Michelle Blodgett, the regional representative with EarthForce, said she came down from Michigan for Wednesday morning’s event. She said her organization partners with General Motors in 42 communities.

“This is the first step of the process, engaging the environment,” Blodgett said, adding the students will take their data back to the classroom and try to determine whether the water quality will affect local health issues. “We hope to teach the studends civic and STEM  (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills in addition to motivating them about environmental issues.”

Hoffman said she hopes to schedule a followup session with the students in their Chaney classroom. She said her team participated in a daylong water quality education summit at the MetroParks Farm in Canfield last December.

“That was a freezing cold day. Today’s climate was much better,” the University of Pittsburgh graduate said, adding she hopes her environmental team can get into some Trumbull County schools.

“We have made contact with people in the Hubbard School District about scheduling an event there,” Hoffman said.