Anikka Bjornson

Creeks and Critters: Using Place-Based Learning and Near-Peer Mentorship to Teach Public Health Concepts to Young Adults

Safe, clean water is arguably the most vital component of global and public health, due to water’s universal necessity, and yet, water quality is a pertinent issue, and a matter of increasing concern due to climate change, pollution, and water source depletion. The issue of water quality is connected with various environmental and ecological systems, as well as human health. As a result, making public health and ecological concepts accessible and appealing to younger generations is a vital initiative, one championed by the University of Minnesota Rochester’s EcoLiteracySCHOOL (Students Collaborating in Health-Oriented Outdoor Learning). Drawing from previous experience with public education on ecological principles as a Minnesota Master Naturalist, I designed and implemented an outdoor activity that focused on using native ecosystems to draw connections between public health, water quality, and the environment. The activity included objective chemical and qualitative water testing methods, as well as a complimentary survey of local aquatic macroinvertebrate indicator species which could be used to display connections between key topics mentioned above. Students from Pine Island High School and the University of Minnesota Rochester were encouraged to complete the activity, collecting and reporting data while interacting with nature and natural systems. This project served to deliver an immersive, engaging, and thought-provoking learning activity in an outdoor setting that provided connections between key ecological literacy, water quality, and human health. It also demonstrated the importance and promising potential of using outdoor activities to introduce and involve youths in environmental activism and citizen science.