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Rock-Solid Public Engagement
AT UNH AND BEYOND, Barry Rock is well known for his extensive outreach and public engagement activities. What’s probably less well known is that he actually began this aspect of his professional career way back when he was an undergraduate at the University of Vermont where he developed a 4-H club with local elementary and middle school students.

Barry Rock
Barry Rock
Photo by K. Donahue, UNH-EOS

“Over time it’s evolved into working with K-12 students and teachers at the regional, national, and international level,” Rock notes.

Through programs like Forest Watch, Watershed Watch, Project SMART, and the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment or GLOBE program, Rock has taken his outreach scholarship far, wide, and deep, both as educational tools and as sources of data for use in his own research.

For that he was honored this year by UNH with a Faculty Excellence for Outstanding Public Service award.

Rock is not resting on his laurels. He’s currently embarked on a new effort – called World Ocean Watch or WOW – that will be launched first in Florida. It will use the same tried-and-true principles of programs like Forest Watch but take them offshore to explore and collect data on coastal marine issues, river pollution, harmful algal blooms, etc. He will also use satellite data to engage WOW students, introducing them to the use of satellite imagery in connection with coastal processes and the terrestrial watersheds that contribute to these processes.

WOW, Rock notes, is the brainchild of one of the original teachers affiliated with Forest Watch – Phil Browne of Concord High School, himself, and Florida entrepreneur/educator Patxi Pastor.

He’s working with Miami Dade County school district personnel, two city commissioners – coastal awareness, environmental affairs – university researchers, and three high schools to get this program up and running. At meetings held in Miami Beach in late April, the WOW organizers decided to focus on sharks, sea turtles, coral reefs and dolphins, in each case connecting coastal processes known to affect these marine organisms.

Says Rock, “They see me as someone who’s put together an outreach program that has longevity – Forest Watch is now in its 18th year – and as a person who can communicate science in English to the general public.”

Julie Williams would certainly agree with that assessment. Williams, UNH associate vice president for research and outreach scholarship, nominated Rock for the Faculty Excellence award.

“Barry is one of our stars here at UNH. His work exemplifies the very best of what it means to be a faculty member and an outreach scholar at a community engaged university like UNH,” Williams says. Rock, Williams adds, engages his students in meaningful study and by hands-on learning inside and outside the classroom. “He engages with external partners to make a genuine difference in the world and he collaborates across multiple disciplines and universities with his colleagues from around the nation and the world.”

Adds Rock, “UNH has been a tremendous supporter of my outreach and public engagement activities and outreach has become such a major theme here at the university. And outreach is, I think, becoming a major contributor to the way many of us do science.” -DS


by David Sims, Science Writer, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space. Published in Summer 2009 issue of EOS Spheres.