Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program

Volunteer mentors and a grant from Intel have helped students build and program solar-powered environmental monitoring stations.

For many years, a unique collaboration of university researchers, K-12 schools, and other agencies has enabled students and other volunteers in New Mexico to become “citizen scientists” who help protect the immense Rio Grande River ecosystem.

Now, thanks to volunteers and a grant from Intel, some of the participating students are not only gaining environmental awareness—they’re also acquiring valuable engineering skills.

[With Intel® Galileo], it’s just so simple to do something and get results. It got the students interested because it wasn’t just reading from a textbook—it was doing something.

The Rio Grande River stretches 1,900 miles from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico, sustaining life for millions of people. Since 1996, the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP), coordinated by the University of New Mexico and Bosque college prep school, has enabled students across New Mexico to assist in protecting this important water source. Students who participate in BEMP collect data from monitoring stations scattered throughout the Rio Grande’s riparian forest (known as the “bosque”). The data—related to weather, soil moisture, tree growth, leaf litter, and more—is passed on to researchers and resource managers who use it to monitor and manage the river ecosystem.

In 2013, Brian Rashap, site manager, Intel New Mexico Corporate Services, and John Gabaldon, then an Intel engineer, launched a program to supplement local schools’ BEMP data collection efforts by enabling students to build and program more sophisticated, solar-powered monitoring stations with the help of volunteer mentors. To pay for the hardware used in the stations, they secured a grant through the Intel Sustainability in Action program, which provides funding for employees’ innovative environmental projects.

Rashap, Gabaldon, and additional Intel volunteers Marco Farias and Jacobo Hernandez have since made regular visits to area high schools, where they help students build and program their own monitoring stations based on Intel® Galileo development boards. “[We] hit gold with teaching these students how to use microcontrollers,” says Gabaldon.

The students were so driven that by the second class, they would have the Intel Galileo plugged in and running customized forms of “Blink” [software] before we officially started the class. To see a diverse group of teenagers excited about learning is easily one of the most satisfactory feelings in this world.

 

Trish Merewether, science and math teacher, describes some of the impact the project had on her students at Albuquerque’s South Valley Academy: "Our school serves economically challenged youth who have never had this type of exposure before. This project gives them something to look forward to every week. In the first round of students, we had two seniors, and both of them now want to pursue computer engineering in college. They would never have had an interest in such a field if they had not been exposed to the computer programming classes that John taught."

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