Western’s Marco Hatch Awarded $300,000 NSF Grant to Start New Coastal Almanac Citizen-Science Initiative

Western Washington University Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences Marco Hatch and two colleagues have been chosen to receive a new two-year $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a pilot project designed to improve inclusion of STEM education and career pathways to underserved populations.

The grant is part of NSF’s new INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) program, a comprehensive initiative to enhance U.S. leadership in science and engineering.

Hatch’s proposal, one of 37 approved by the NSF out of more than 500 submitted, is a developmental model called the Coastal Almanac that will put in place a structure for Pacific Northwest coastal communities and tribal nations to collect, analyze and archive data to help answer scientific questions important to them.

“Under this model, these communities won’t have to be passive consumers of information – they will be the primary researchers and the active participants in the process, as well as the stewards of the data once the process is complete,” he said.

The Coastal Almanac project’s first two years will be focused on putting in place the structure for the program to succeed – after that will come the effort to have the communities discover what is most pressing to them, and then begin the scientific process to discover the answers to these questions themselves, whether it is a query about the impact of global sea-level rise or a better understanding of how ocean acidification might impact local shellfish populations.

In the process, Hatch and his colleagues are banking on the idea that putting scientific discovery directly into the hands of the community members will not only make science more accessible for everyone in that community, but spark interest in it for those community members on their way to a higher-education experience. Additionally this project will expand the “discovery space and solutions space” of marine science as a function of a more inclusive set of people, information and ideas.

“The image of ‘scientists’ needs to change for this to be a success. We can all be scientists. What we want to show with the Coastal Almanac is the inherent connection between the geosciences and these communities, and by illustrating that relationship, we will see an increase in interest in the STEM field from the folks participating in the process,” he said.

Hatch worked on the submission with Julia Parrish of the University of Washington and Selina Heppell of Oregon State University, and the three will continue to work on the pilot project together now that it has been chosen by the NSF.

Hatch and his colleagues have received letters of interest and support from area tribes, state and federal agencies and a number of native and non-native coastal fishing communities in Washington and Oregon. Through working with these partner communities they will create a system to involve citizens in the collection, mapping, and interpretation of natural and human-forced phenomena in their local area that can simultaneously promote an understanding and appreciation of science as well as provide valuable data to mainstream science and resource-management efforts.

This is Hatch’s first year teaching at Western. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Washington and his doctorate from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2012; he grew up in Yakima and is a member of the Samish Indian Nation.

For more information on the Coastal Almanac program or the NSF INCLUDES program, contact Marco Hatch at (360) 650-2844 or marco.hatch@wwu.edu.