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What do one tropical canopy researcher, a Minnesota teacher, and a bunch of teenagers have in common?  On the surface, not much.  But dig a bit deeper, or rather climb a bit higher, and you will find a shared passion for exploring and understanding the intricacies of the Amazon rainforest canopy!

Researcher, Dr. Meg Lowman, and high school teacher, DC Randle, have joined forces to mentor the next generation of rainforest researchers and in the process are transforming the lives of Minnesota high school students.  Many of DC’s student have traveled with him to the Amazon and with the help of Meg, they have engaged in all sorts of inquiry based projects including herbivory (plant and animal feeding interactions) assessments, long term plant studies (leaf tagging), bromeliad and epiphyte studies, and more!  DC has given his students the opportunity to become apprentices to a top scientist like Meg and engage in authentic inquiry as they participate in important research in tropical ecology and biology.

It all began when Meg and DC met deep in the neotropical rainforest as guest faculty on a Jason Project, a virtual field trip which streamed live into classrooms around across the US.   Their mentoring partnership has had an enormous trickle-down effect and has made the Amazon come alive for hundreds of students!

For DC, having Meg as a mentor has allowed him to grow as a scientist in his own right.  He has participated in numerous field research projects, worked side by side with a diverse array of scientists,  served on scientific committees, and co-authored papers on tropical ecology.  Ultimately DC says, “I have become a better educator as a direct result of Meg.  My students have become better students of science and education as a result of me mentoring them in the same way Meg has mentored me.” 

What does a professional ecologist like Meg gain from this relationship?  Her work with DC has opened her eyes to the importance of engaging students in the real work of scientists and giving them first-hand experience with the magic of scientific inquiry.  Over the course of her partnership with DC, Meg has shifted part of her professional focus to K-12 education and is now incorporating this new understanding into her work as the director of the new Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh, NC.

The ripples of this amazing partnership don’t stop with Meg, DC, and a handful of select students.  Through their collaborative efforts, they are able to share and amplify their first hand experiences with research in the Amazon rainforest.   As DC and Meg will attest, in order to sustain these forests for future generations, the first key in doing so is education.  “Students and other interested people need first hand experiences and opportunities to see, investigate, and understand how the system works to better provide the information to sustain them for years to come.” says DC.  Fortunately for all of us, Meg, DC, and their students are doing just this as they spread the word through their schools, communities, and the greater scientific network!

JOIN THE CONVERSATION!  Leave a reply below.  Have you been a mentor or a mentee?  How has that impacted your personal and professional life?