ASMSA awarded National Park Service national honor

3 weeks ago

The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts has been named the recipient of the national George and Helen Hartzog Award for Outstanding Youth Volunteer Service Group for its work with Hot Springs National Park.

The National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior announced national award winners during National Volunteer Week on April 28. ASMSA had recently been recognized as the Midwest Region winner for the Hartzog Award. The national winner was selected from the region honorees.

Students from ASMSA contributed 1,133 hours of service for Hot Springs National Park in 2016. That included a group of 16 students who conducted research throughout the park as part of the Research in the Park program. Students in the program monitored water quality, evaluated geologic resources, identified algae specimens, photographed insects for the museum collection, served as trail ambassadors and completed analysis of thermophilic bacteria possibly unique to the park’s hot springs.

Research in the Park students amassed thousands of water-quality data points through the weekly collection of temperature, pH, specific conductance and dissolved oxygen readings at 35 of the park’s thermal water springs, the National Park Service release said. The collection of the data allowed the park to create a baseline for water quality parameters that had not previously existed. Many of the students also completed science fair research projects within the national park and presented their findings in public programming during 2016’s National Park Week.

ASMSA and Hot Springs National Park developed the Research in the Park program three years ago. Students volunteer to work on specific research programs within the park for class credit. Many of the students use the park program for their Fundamental in Research Methods project. Several of the projects are designed to allow future students to continue the research.

Other student volunteers contributed time at various park sites as part of their community work service requirement. Students provided needed assistance, including working at visitor information desks.

ASMSA and Hot Springs National Park working together on projects is a natural fit, said Dr. Lindsey Waddell, an ASMSA chemistry and geoscience instructor who works with students in the program.

“Research projects have always been a cornerstone of the ASMSA experience, and over the years, many students, myself included, have found rich subject matter for these projects in the natural and cultural resources of Hot Springs National Park,” Waddell said.  “The Research in the Park program created at ASMSA in 2014 has served to magnify what were previously individual student efforts into a collective effort that is helping to address the areas of greatest need for the park while also giving students access to the staff knowledge and resources needed to investigate subjects of special interest to them.

“I am very proud that student interest in Hot Springs National Park has far exceeded the capacity of the Research in the Park program, necessitating the addition of a second pathway for ASMSA seniors to volunteer this year.  Selection for the Hartzog Award is clear validation of our students' collective and sustained efforts, as well as the tireless mentoring and logistical support contributed by ASMSA biology instructor Dr. Jon Ruehle and Hot Springs National Park staff members Michael Kusch, Shelley Todd, Tom Hill, and Brian Schwieger.

“The level of stewardship demonstrated by these students is truly impressive, and I am excited for the impact that this formal recognition will have on the path of our current students, as well as the future of the Research in the Park program at ASMSA.”

ASMSA Director Corey Alderdice said the proximity of the national park provides a special opportunity for ASMSA.

"ASMSA's students and staff have a unique set of opportunities to engage with the community, nature and the National Park Service thanks to this partnership,” Alderdice said. “The opportunity to combine research with civic engagement is a chance to not only develop the next generation of scientists and researchers but also citizens with a passion for sustainability and stewardship of our natural resources."

The National Park Service and National Park Foundation will hold an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., to recognize various award winners on Aug. 1. The Hartzog Awards are named for former National Park Service Director George B. Hartzog, Jr. and his wife, Helen. Hartzog served as the head of the National Park Service from 1964 to 1972. He established the Volunteers-In-Parks Program in 1970.

To learn more about how to volunteer for the National Park Service, visit volunteer.gov.

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