Master teacher recognized with Deering Foundation Partner Award

Nick Oehm

For 15 years, Nicholas Oehm has leveraged a partnership with the Deering Estate to have FIU students and alumni study wetland sciences and to hone their science communication skills.

“It is an intense, but invaluable experience in developing their communication skills and adapting their skills for use in an informal setting,” Oehm said.

As an FIUteach Master Teacher, Oehm works with FIU students to design STEM lesson plans that they can then teach when they become teachers themselves. By learning how to teach a topic, the students are sharpening their own knowledge of the topic. Student enrolled in the FIUteach program for science majors focus on teaching how science experiments are designed, conducted and analyzed. By examining the interplay between teachers, students and the content being taught, FIUteach students can develop lesson plans that consider all aspects of classroom interaction.

Sometimes they get to practice on Deering Estates’ guests as volunteers at its annual Seafood Festival. For 3 minutes at a time. That’s all the time they have to share information or lead an interactive activity on the benefits of nature and the environment before more people need information.

But perhaps the biggest benefit of having his students work with Deering is the opportunity to participate in wetland-related science experiments as undergraduates. The Cutler Slough Rehydration Project is located on the grounds of the estate and serves as a demonstration wetland and small-scale model of the greater Everglades restoration project underway.

In 2019, Oehm launched the FCE LTeaER Decomposition Project which was designed as a citizen science project that aligns with work being done at hard to reach sites managed by the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-term Ecological Research program run by FIU’s Institute of Environment.

By deploying teabags in Cutler Slough, K-12 students participated in Everglades research aimed at calculating the rate of soil decomposition — without having to board a helicopter, airboat, or marine boats to get there.

Several Miami-Dade County Public Schools teachers including FIU almuna Cristina Whelan, a science teacher at BioTECH Senior High School have received Research Experience for Teachers (RET) grants from the National Science Foundation to work directly with Oehm and his Deering Estate projects.

“The Deering Estate partnership is an important part of our ability to provide high quality professional development to pre- and professional service K-12 teachers,” Oehm said. “Deering provides a site for the K-12 community to practice place-based science, as well as conduct authentic scientific research that contributes to the FCE LTER and enables teachers and students to collaborate directly with scientists.”

This year, Oehm was presented with the Deering Foundation’s 2020 Champion Partner of the Year award.

“I am truly humbled and most appreciative of this honor,” said Oehm. “Deering is a valuable community and education partner for the University that brings together three things that mean a great deal to me—FIUteach, FCE LTER, and STEM Education.”

To learn more about the FIU Institute of Environment’s FCE LTER or FIUteach, please visit their websites.