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BOP Schools and Citizen Science Partner Spotlight: Judy O’Neil, University of Maryland

By Heather Flanagan
April 5, 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.  Today, we’re getting to know Judy O’Neil, Research Associate Professor, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

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    • What’s your job?  What do you spend your day doing?  How did you end up doing that work?
      I’m a research professor.  I study harmful algal blooms- some that produce toxins that are harmful to humans, animals, and the environment.  So I teach Biological Oceanography at the University of Maryland, and I have several education projects, including this one and one that links American and Australian high school students in a virtual environmental partnership that investigates the water cycle (USAUS-H2O).  I also work with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland Environmental Literacy Partnership.  Maryland is the first state that has implemented an environmental literacy standard for high school graduation.  We run teacher workshops to get them to incorporate the environmental aspect into what they’re already doing.  We use the Chesapeake Bay as an example, with oysters, crabs, seagrasses, and water quality as our focal points.  We take them to Baltimore Harbor as well as the rural Smith Island which is under threat of flooding with climate change.  It’s not just science, it’s culture, science management, and history.


    • What’s your role in this project?
      To help facilitate the development of the digital platform, help with science communications, and to liaise with the development of the field science protocols and water quality monitoring.  We also write papers and are assessing ways to use BOP-CCERS’s education model to expand to the Chesapeake and potentially other harbors around the world in terms of ecological assessment as well as restoration ecology.
      Another thing we specialize in is our integrated ecosystem assessment report card.  We take data from different environments (including Long Island Sound, the Great Barrier Reef, and Rio de Janeiro in advance of this year’s Summer Olympics) which, along with stakeholder values, allows us to come up with threshold values for acceptable levels of different pollutants or “water parameters.”  Each system has different data and issues, so we assess what those are.  The data is analyzed scientifically and statistically with rigor, and then we put into something that lay people and managers can grasp that resonates with people, which is a report card, so they can work towards a better value.

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    • What got you interested in the Billion Oyster Project?
      We were doing high school digital platforms, and I’m from New Jersey (and my mother is from Manhattan), so these were my stomping grounds and I thought it would be an exciting opportunity to work where my family roots came from.  And it’s just a very exciting project- this idea of incorporating education and citizen science in restoring water quality is a great initiative.

    • What are you most excited about?
      I’m excited about STEAM (STEM and Arts)- I’m excited about Salty Folk!  And I’m excited to transfer some of that STEAM to the Chesapeake.

    • What’s your favorite waterfront spot?  Why?
      Cape Cod in Chatham. I spent my childhood summers there, poking around the salt marshes, playing with hermit crabs and sailing. It’s the place that got me hooked on the ocean.


  • What advice do you have for young scientists (i.e. the middle school children this project is serving)?
    To not be afraid to do what you are passionate about. To not be afraid that it’s too much school or will take too long.  When you’re doing what you love even lots of years of school are worth it and fun!

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!