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BOP Schools and Citizen Science Partner Spotlight: Eli Caref, The River Project

By Heather Flanagan
April 4, 2016

Billion Oyster Project Curriculum and Community Enterprise for Restoration Science (BOP-CCERS) is a community of students and teachers, professional scientists and citizen scientist volunteers, schools, universities, businesses, and community organizations, all working together to conduct oyster restoration-based scientific research in New York Harbor.  BOP-CCERS is funded through a three-year educational research grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings.

Part of what’s so exciting about the BOP-CCERS project is that NYC’s public school students are getting access to some of the city’s best and most enthusiastic scientists, educators, and youth development professionals.  This week we’ll be introducing you to the people who are making it happen in our Partner Spotlight series.  First up- Eli Caref, Education Programs Coordinator at The River Project.

Eli Caref with her favorite ethanol-preserved specimen from The River Project’s collection, the oyster toadfish (also known as the “oyster cracker” for its habit of cracking open oyster shells with its sharp teeth!).

Eli Caref with her favorite ethanol-preserved specimen from The River Project’s collection, the oyster toadfish (also known as the “oyster cracker” for its habit of cracking open oyster shells with its sharp teeth!).

  • What’s your job?  What do you spend your day doing?  How did you end up doing that work?
    I’m the Education Programs Coordinator, so I coordinate our education programs, do curriculum development, teach field trips, and as an environmental educator and field scientist, I also co-teach a college Ecology course at Yeshiva University.

    I got interested in environmental education through a circuitous path.  As a graduate student at NYU I attended the Wallerstein’s Environmental Education Expo where I saw a seahorse in a tank, brought by The River Project.  It made me excited because I grew up in Brooklyn and I didn’t know seahorses, let alone anything else, lived here. I needed to do an internship for my Master’s degree, and I’d done a project on TRP for another class, so I came here as an Environmental Education Intern.  After I graduated I took the Educator position, which led to my role as the Education Programs Coordinator.

  • What’s your role in this project?
    I’m involved in the field trip and field science aspects.  I’ve also joined some curriculum planning, field day planning, and teacher-student project workshops.  This has helped cement The River Project’s role as not just a field trip destination- we’re also a resource as scientists who deal with Harbor ecology all the time.  So we’re starting to do more on the education side.

  • What got you interested in the Billion Oyster Project?
    We’ve been working with the Harbor School since its infancy.  Murray [Fisher, President of the New York Harbor Foundation] has worked with my Executive Director, Cathy Drew, for many years, so we’ve been partners on BOP from the beginning. It’s a natural partnership.

  • What are you most excited about?
    I’m really interested in getting teachers out onto the water and into our space, touching these animals, and figuring all of this out.  I think it [BOP CCERS’s goal of engaging students in authentic restoration science] really comes from the teachers and working in this professional development environment.  One of the issues in education is that there are many resources for teachers that are untapped, so I want to support teachers who are going on this journey and bring more people to it.  I’m a product of NYC public schools but I never did anything like this- I never touched live animals on a field trip or got muddy from the river- so I think it’s important that teachers are on board.  And I love oysters!

  • What’s your favorite waterfront spot?  Why?
    There’s a spot on Lake Michigan where my family goes- it’s beautiful and relaxing and it takes me home.

  • What advice do you have for young scientists (i.e. the students this project is serving)?
    Get your hands dirty!  Follow what interests you, even if you don’t know where it’s going to lead you.  I never thought I’d be a marine biology educator and somehow I found my way here, and it was by following what I enjoy more than anything.

Interested in reading more about BOP-CCERS and how we’re bringing hands-on restoration science to classrooms all over the city?  Sign up for our newsletter and click here to read all BOP-CCERS posts!