ASRC Hosts Inclusive High School Retreat at Whiteface Mountain

CGiC students stand with ASRC faculty in front of the Whiteface Mountain Field Station.

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 2, 2022) A new community outreach project led by the University at Albany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC) is fostering inclusive science amongst high schoolers at nearly 5,000 feet above sea level.

The project, called “Common Ground in the Clouds,” (CGiC) aims to connect students in the Adirondack region with peers from Indigenous schools through multi-day retreats at ASRC’s iconic Whiteface Mountain Field Station.

Students and teachers from the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, whose territory spans northern New York into Canada, joined peers from Lake Placid High School last month for the project’s first official cross-cultural event.

During their visit, the group received tours of the ASRC research facilities, as well as the New York State Mesonet’s site at Whiteface Mountain, to learn about the  atmospheric and environmental research conducted there. The retreat also included a discussion platform to share each other’s environmental issues and concerns in areas such as climate change, water quality and air pollution. The students attended presentations with ASRC, NYS Mesonet and Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences (DAES) faculty, a BIPOC graduate student, and the faculty advisor for UAlbany’s new Indigenous Student Association. 

CGiC students and teachers tour the NYS Mesonet site at Whiteface Mountain.
ASRC’s Scott McKim provides an overview of the NYS Mesonet site at Whiteface Mountain to CGiC students and teachers.

All travel and other related expenses were paid for through a Strategic Allocation of Resources (StAR) grant, which offers funding to jump-start initiatives that support the University’s Strategic Plan.

“We’ve been looking for new and unique ways to connect our work at Whiteface to the larger community,” said Mark Beauharnois, CGiC coordinator and senior programmer/analyst at ASRC who is based at the field station. “What we’re trying to do is not only encourage these kids to pursue STEM education, but also have them come together, both culturally and environmentally, to build inclusive communities of ecocentric-minded individuals.”

“Solving challenging and complex environmental and societal problems requires an equitable exchange of knowledge and the ability to communicate and understand each other’s experiences, perspectives, and feelings. This project, in a small way, aims at doing just that.”

Common Ground in the Clouds

Beauharnois, who lives in Lake Placid, said the idea originated from his existing relationship with leaders at the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and a "deep passion" to support diversity efforts in the Adirondack Park region.

After connecting with the Adirondack Diversity Initiative (ADI), Beauharnois collaborated with ADI executive director Nicole Hylton-Patterson, DAES instructor Ross Lazear and scientists and engineers at WFM to develop the CGiC curriculum. 

Nicole Hylton-Patterson and Mark Beauharnois stand in front of the Whiteface Mountain Field Station.
From left: Nicole Hylton-Patterson and Mark Beauharnois.

Their proposal successfully secured more than $15,000 in StAR funding to host two retreats, including one in Fall 2021 that was only attended by local students at Lake Placid and Saranac Lake High School due to pandemic travel restrictions. Last month’s retreat supported around a dozen students and teachers.

“This program represents a powerful start to ASRC’s mission to connect underrepresented students with majors and career pathways in STEM,” said Hylton-Patterson, who offered an overview presentation of ADI at the May retreat. “Moreover, it signals the intentionality of ASRC, and the larger UAlbany community, to engage minoritized communities in the North Country as part of its emergent partnership with our team.”

A Growing Partnership

Along with funding for the retreat, the STAR funding also includes $1,000 scholarships for up to three students who participated in the retreats, building a new Indigenous student pipeline back to UAlbany.

“We are extending UAlbany’s walls to the community walls,” said Beauharnois. “This project is a win-win situation. It is supportive of the University’s diversity and inclusion mission, while also raising awareness and action to address critical environmental issues that impact all of us.” 

ASRC plans to offer similar CGiC programs and retreats in future semesters, as well as grow its partnership with the Mohawk Nation. Tony David, director of the Mohawk Nation’s Environment Division, was a featured speaker at the 2022 Falconer Lecture Series on campus.