Mix together three parts kids, two parts scientists and a beautiful summer evening, stir well and the result is a winner every time. “The kids bring so much energy and interest, it helps remind you that your work is pretty cool,” said Alex Taylor, an EEB graduate student, who coordinated Hands-on Biology with EEB Scientists at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival KidZone, Thursday, June 15, 2017.

Graduate students and others from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology volunteered for the second year in a row at the event. Along with about 200 visitors over three hours, they explored the awesomeness of life on Earth with hands-on examples of interactive biodiversity, up close encounters with the diversity of local fungi, the different shapes of bat skulls, and the strange bacteria filled nodules on the roots of pea plants, and more.  

“We volunteer at A2SF specifically to help out our neighbors and to make sure that Ann Arborites know that the biologists at U-M are engaged members of their community,” said Taylor.

 “I think it's important to teach people about biodiversity so that they can understand the value of the different plants, animals, fungi and even microbes that play a part in their everyday lives,” said Erin Westeen, a research assistant in the labs of Professors Alison Davis Rabosky and Dan Rabosky. “Activities such as the EEB KidZone are important because they engage both children and their parents, and teach members of the community about local biodiversity in a fun and interesting way. The more people know about biodiversity, the more likely they are to want to protect it!

Image credit: Alex Taylor

“My favorite part of doing KidZone was hearing children try to identify different animals that we had on display,” Westeen continued. “It's always great to see kids make the connection between the rabbits they see on campus or the coyotes they hear at night, and think about what their respective roles might be in an ecosystem. We even had some keen future-scientists speculate that the long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata) might have a white coat in the winter to blend in with the snow in Michigan (they were totally right)! It's also fun to share what we do as scientists at the UMMZ and in the EEB department, and to hopefully inspire some kids to want to be scientists when they grow up.”

“Most of the grad students in the tent were trained at the Detroit Zoo Science Communication Fellowship,” said Taylor. “We like to do these outreach activities to show kids that scientists are real people, and that they could become scientists when they grow up. Showing kids a slice of the kind of research we do gives them a sense that there's a lot more going on in nature than meets the eye, that the world is an awe-inspiring and often mysterious place. Kids have a natural sense of curiosity that we hope they hold onto!”

A rousing shout out to the volunteers (EEB graduate students, except as noted):

Fungus: Anat Belasen, Jill Myers
Activities for drawing and matching different kinds of fungus (mold, mushrooms, lichens, etc.)

Birds: Mike Harvey, postdoctoral fellow
Bird collections from the U-M Museum of Zoology and a telescope set up to observe the falcons on the Burton Memorial Tower

Insects: Paul Glaum
UMMZ insect collections and a dissecting scope

Mammals: Jeff Shi, Erin Westeen (research assistant in the Davis Rabosky and Rabosky labs, alumnus (UM EEB 2017)
UMMZ mammal collections

Plants: Alex Taylor, Laura Eidietis (lecturer)
Woody plants poster (with thanks to Professors Chris Dick and Ines Ibanez) showing different kinds of fruits and seeds and how they're dispersed. Pea plants and a dissecting scope, showing pea nodules.

The students took over the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Instagram account for the event.

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