PAUL SMITHS - An ecology professor at Paul Smith's College has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to teach and conduct research in Siberia this fall.
Celia Evans is the first faculty member at Paul Smith's to receive one of the prestigious awards. The international exchange program is sponsored by the U.S. government and allows students and faculty to teach and conduct research around the world.
Evans will travel to Russia's Altai Republic this fall. During the three-month trip, she will work with a Russian colleague to study primary school students' relationship to their environment, community and culture and how those things affect their ecological learning.
"We want to find out how students are learning the things they know about the natural environment and how they relate to it," said Evans, whose research and teaching are built around the concept of "place." "We want to find out how much of their knowledge and attitudes come from media, community and family members, and how much of it comes from formal schooling. If we find out that family and community are important avenues for ecological knowledge, for example, we can suggest curriculum that incorporates some of those things into the formal learning environment."
As part of her project, Evans and her research colleague, Dr. Natalia Yurkova, will ask third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students to draw pictures, write short stories and create lists of words describing their environment, their favorite things about it and the ways in which they learn about it. They'll then analyze the images, narratives and word lists, collecting data that potentially leads to educational improvements.
Evans will compare the data from the Altai project with data from similar research in Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake. "I have already begun working with great teachers here in the Adirondacks in some of their classrooms," Evans said. Altai is very similar to those communities in some ways: Both are rural, land-based areas. But they're very different culturally. So while Evans expects there to be some similarities in the way children identify with place and develop ecological understanding and attitudes, she thinks there will likely be some fundamental differences.
Additionally, Evans will teach two five-week college courses in general ecology and plant biology at Gorno-Altaisk State University. "Students in Altai don't get to learn that much about the ecology around them," Evans said. "Their curriculum is much more straight biology, so I would like to teach them about their immediate environment."
"I'm nervous, and a bit overwhelmed, but really excited," said Evans, who will travel to Russia with her two daughters. "It will come together and I know we will have a great experience over there. Then I get to come back and transfer what I have learned into my own place-based teaching at Paul Smith's."