This is the latest in a series of profiles and interviews of Project WET USA Coordinators, now compiled by Monica Kilpatrick of Georgia Project WET.
This month's featured coordinator is Kerry Schwartz from the University of Arizona in Tucson. A faculty member at the University of Arizona, Kerry is an Associate Specialist in the Arizona Cooperative Extension and Director of the Arizona Project WET program out of the Water Resources Research Center. She started as coordinator for Arizona Project WET in November 1999 and has raised over $3 million to support APW programming during her tenure at the UA, sustaining partnerships with corporations, foundations and governmental agencies. Currently, Kerry is working to develop and evaluate STEM-focused education programs that integrate science and engineering practices into environmental education and foster critical and creative thinking skills. Kerry has also served on the Project WET USA Council.
"Kerry has done a lot of work in Arizona to promote and sustain Project WET and her leadership has promoted WET throughout the state," says Erica Cox, the Missouri Project WET coordinator and Project WET USA Council chair. "She has worked on innovative ways to use WET in her program and continually strives to keep WET relevant. She is a great ambassador for Project WET!"
Project WET (PW): Why did you want to be a Project WET Coordinator?
Kerry Schwartz (KS): After receiving my Master's Degree in Geohydrology from the University of Arizona, I spent eight years in the field of environmental consulting. As a hydrogeologist, I sampled hundreds of monitoring wells and directed the drilling of many more wells. I recommended well locations, developed and tested groundwater supplies, monitored surface water stations and sampled water chemistry for various clients. I analyzed and evaluated water quality and quantity data and wrote reports recommending action based on data analysis. As exciting as all that sounds, I felt as though my work wasn't making a difference. It wasn't proactive enough. So after a year off traveling the country, I changed directions. I took an Americorps position teaching environmental education in the City's environmental education program. At the end of that year, the Arizona Project WET Coordinator position was posted. I got the job the day I interviewed. It was and continues to be my dream job: the opportunity to apply my knowledge and experience to develop and implement effective water education.
PW: What is unique about your water address?
KS: Arizona is a unique place. With elevations ranging from 400 to 12,000 feet above sea level, we have amazing biodiversity, from desert scrub to sub-alpine tundra. The Colorado River has helped to form one of the world's natural wonders: the Grand Canyon, but that's just one of the state's destinations. We have the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, Canyon de Chelly, The Wave, the Red Rocks of Sedona and Saguaro National Park to name but a few. As for "water places," the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is home to more than 80 species of mammals, more than 40 species of amphibians and reptiles and 100 species of breeding birds. It also provides invaluable habitat for 250 species of migrant and wintering birds and contains archaeological sites representing the remains of human occupation from 13,000 years ago.
Arizona is arid, but people have been thriving here for thousands of years. The Hohokam began storing and conveying water here as early as 300 B.C. Roosevelt Dam, completed in 1911, was the United States' first large masonry dam and served the thriving agricultural lands that are now part of Greater Phoenix. The Colorado River Watershed allocations were negotiated with the seven states back in 1922. The Central Arizona Project now conveys water 336 miles across desert regions to cities, agricultural regions and Native American tribal lands. Wise water management is a key to life here, so we continue to innovate and learn.
PW: How does your water address impact the way you use Project WET?
KS: Early on I developed a love for teaching about groundwater using the groundwater flow models. Groundwater is a largely untaught component of the hydrologic cycle, and in this arid state it made sense for people to understand the significance of this hidden resource. We have developed and assessed instructional programs using groundwater flow models over the last 13 years. We use the models to facilitate learning for over 10,000 students each year.
Wise water use for Arizona means water conservation and water efficiency. Working with the Project WET Foundation, we developed the 336-page Arizona Conserve Water Educators Guide to meet this need. In addition, the newly developed School Water Audit Program and the take-home Water Scene Investigation Program integrate STEM subjects and have students apply their skills to quantify water usage and act to install technology that saves water. Through installation of water-saving technology, Arizona students have saved a projected 31 million gallons of water. The need here in arid Arizona is obvious, but I'd argue that these are programs that should be used in all states in which drought, climate change and lack of adequate storage are imminent factors.
PW: What is your fondest or funniest Project WET memory?
KS: This is too difficult to answer. I love working with the Arizona Project WET team, with teachers and with kids. I have amazing partners and sponsors. I smile and laugh a lot in my job. So for a fond memory, I'll go with when the whole Arizona Project WET team got to attend the Sustaining the Blue Planet Global Water Education Conference in Bozeman. We got to hang out with our colleagues across the country and the world. That's always special!
To learn more about Kerry and Arizona Project WET, visit the Arizona Project WET website. And stay tuned for the next Coordinator Spotlight!
Previous Coordinator Spotlights:
Julie Scanlin of Idaho
Kim McCoy of Massachusetts
Erica Cox of Missouri
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