We’re empowering a new generation of scientists and naturalists.
As climate change, deforestation, and other threats push entire habitats and species out of existence, we’re facing some of the greatest environmental crises in our history. We believe science education holds the key to meeting these daunting challenges—because saving the natural world begins with understanding and appreciating it.
That’s why scientific study and conservation are at the heart of every Earthwatch expedition, and why we invest in creating unrivaled educational experiences for teachers and students of all backgrounds—including those who face financial or other obstacles to volunteering. Earthwatch has awarded fully funded fellowships to nearly 2,000 high school students to date through our Ignite and Girls in Science programs, and to almost 6,000 educators through our Teach Earth and Project Kindle fellowships. Hundreds more teachers and students participate in student group expeditions every year.
These programs have both immediate and long-lasting impacts. By helping environmental scientists collect crucial data for their research, every Earthwatch expedition helps protect our natural world in tangible ways. But after a week or more immersed in nature and engaged with peers, the impact of an Earthwatch expedition goes deeper than advancing scientific progress. Students and teachers alike report transformational life experiences: feelings of empowerment and awe, of renewed passion and purpose. Teachers return to their classrooms reinvigorated; students may discover a heightened sense of stewardship and a new excitement for science.
It was my first real exposure to doing research, especially such hands-on research with so much responsibility in my hands—and it turns out I love it.
Grace — 2018 Ignite fellow
Turning students into scientists
The research is clear: Science is best learned by doing. “When we allow our bodies to become part of the learning process, we understand better,” said cognitive scientist and Barnard College president Sian Beilock, co-author of a 2015 study that found students who took part in hands-on scientific learning showed deeper understanding and improved test performance. “Reading about a concept in a textbook or even seeing a demonstration in class is not the same as physically experiencing what you are learning about,” she said.
And doing is what Earthwatch is all about. Active participation in the scientific process is at the core of an Earthwatch expedition. By conducting real-world research, students gain a first-hand understanding of scientific inquiry in action—but also what it means to be a working scientist. Many are surprised to discover just how important the tiniest creature or measurement can be, how messy the work can get, and how much they enjoy it.
- More than half of Earthwatch student fellows go on to major in science in college.
- Earthwatch’s 1,942 student fellows have contributed approximately 136,000 hours of field research to advance scientific discovery and environmental conservation.
- 97% of Ignite alumni said the program helped them understand new possibilities in life, and 96% said their Earthwatch expedition instilled a lifelong interest in science.
Now that I'm back [home in Los Angeles], I find myself wondering what species of plants I'm passing on the freeway and seeing along the beach parking lots... This trip has inspired me to appreciate the bugs and plants around me in a way I'd never imagined before…This fellowship will affect me for as long as I am alive and able to speak to others about the great outdoors and what we can do to study and protect it. I feel like a real scientist. This has been priceless.
Amber — 2015 Ignite fellow
In the field, our Ignite fellows have taken core samples and studied salt marsh microfauna to document historical sea-level fluctuations, helping scientists better understand the sea-level changes we’re witnessing today. They’ve analyzed estuary water quality and studied blue crabs and wolfberries in Texas, providing data that’s crucial to the protection of the Whooping Crane.
These teens have banded and weighed owl nestlings and taken tree and habitat measurements to identify the impact of climate change on forest owl breeding in Utah. They’ve helped quantify the benefits of meadow restoration on groundwater and carbon sequestration in Tahoe National Forest. And they’ve surveyed wildlife in Montana to help scientists predict the geographic movement of bears and other species as climate change impacts their food supplies.
“I learned so many things. I learned what it means to be a scientist. I learned that anyone can make a positive impact on the environment. And, most importantly, I learned about myself. I learned that I am smart, and strong, and as cheesy as it sounds, I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to. This trip changed who I am and how I see the world.
Megan — 2015 Ignite fellow