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Doing science at the wildlife refuge

Highlands biology professor Sarah Corey-Rivas, right, talks with Española and Bernalillo high school students at the STEM Showdown last month at the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge. (Courtesy of the Denver Zoo)

Dozens of New Mexico high school students from five towns and cities experienced science disciplines firsthand at a national wildlife refuge, thanks to a partnership between Highlands University and the Denver Zoo.

The STEM Showdown event took place at the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge last month, a 4,224-acre property on the Mora River 30 minutes north of Highlands main campus in Las Vegas, N.M. The Denver Zoo co-manages the refuge with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Speaking to scientists in this setting allowed students to learn that scientists are ordinary people who overcame their own challenges to do what they love,” said Edward Martínez, Highlands vice president of strategic enrollment management. “Students had the opportunity to learn about the many options available in science careers.”

Students from seven high schools in Las Vegas, N.M., Albuquerque Española, Santa Rosa, and Bernalillo participated at the showdown last month.

The students learned about science firsthand in 30-minute field sessions on a variety of topics like hydrology and wetlands, veterinary medicine, beaver ecology, geospatial science, and “amazing race” species.

Students also had the chance to sit down and talk with scientists, asking questions on topics likes academic preparation for careers, internships, career decisions, and the importance of mentors.

“Having conversations with scientists helps students realize they could be scientists someday,” said Martínez, who is also a natural resources management professor at Highlands.

Martínez said the New Mesa MESA middle and high school program was another important partner for the STEM Showdown. MESA stands for mathematics, engineering, and science achievement.

More than 20 Highlands faculty, staff and graduate students participated in the STEM Showdown, along with other science professionals.

Joe Zebrowski directs geospatial technology at Highlands, and is the university’s liaison with the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge.

Highlands University science professors and students have conducted research at the Rio Mora site since 2005, when it was Wind River Ranch.

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