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Daughter and dad team up for Great Lakes literacy

First-year Alcona Community Schools middle school teacher Liz Thomson is getting noticed for empowering her 120 seventh- and eighth-graders with hands-on study of water and coastal wetlands, boosted by a State of Michigan grant. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) featured Thomson and her father, fellow teacher Bob Thomson, in a profile on its website.

Alcona is one of 16 Michigan schools or districts to share $205,028 in grant funds to develop Great Lakes-based STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs. Liz Thomson’s project received $6,892 to expand so-called 3-P learning (problem-, place- and project-based) by studying coastal and wetland habitats.

As a student, Liz Thomson (standing at right with her father) participated in the Thunder Bay Watershed Project taught by her dad, Bob Thomson. (Credit: Brandon Schroeder, Michigan Sea Grant)

Liz Thomson (standing at right with her father) participated in the Thunder Bay Watershed Project taught by her dad, Bob Thomson. (Credit: Brandon Schroeder, Michigan Sea Grant)

Liz’s father is her mentor teacher and a longtime teacher leader with the Center for Great Lakes Literacy (CGLL) network, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sea Grant-led network engaging in collective learning to promote Great Lakes literacy among educators and students. In 2017, he was the Michigan Science Teachers Association’s Science Educator of the Year. When Liz was an Alpena Public Schools student, she participated in Bob’s Thunder Bay Watershed Project, monitoring water quality, tracking invasive species, studying marine debris, helping to restore native fish populations, and more.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the state funding in June 2022 to support freshwater literacy efforts and prepare students for STEM careers.

“These grants will support freshwater literacy programs and offer students access to real world STEM experiences,” the governor said in a statement. “Our Great Lakes are our greatest asset, and we must empower young Michiganders to learn more about them and continue advancing conservation efforts. Michigan’s economic competitiveness depends on a workforce proficient in STEM and committed to solving our biggest challenges. Investments like these will help prepare our kids to lead our state into the future.”

Gov. Whitmer’s office created the grant funding in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), continuing the 2020 From Students to Stewards Initiative and 2021 MiSTEM Transformative Playbook grants.

“This continued partnership between EGLE and LEO supports students and educators through new and innovative approaches to STEM education to help close our state’s talent gap and prepare our students for high-demand career paths in STEM fields and beyond,” LEO Director Susan Corbin said in a statement.

EGLE Director Liesl Clark called the funding an investment in Michigan’s future leadership.

“These innovative educational programs and experiences will shape tomorrow’s advocates, policymakers and champions who will value and safeguard Michigan’s waterways and watersheds,” Clark said in a statement.

The Alcona project is also supported by Michigan Sea Grant through the CGLL teacher mentorship program and the NOAA, with funding support from the GLRI, the local Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, and the state’s MiSTEM Network.