K-12 teachers collect field samples as part of a graduate-level course Clemson University conducts with Duke Energy.

K-12 teachers collect field samples as part of a graduate-level course Clemson University conducts with Duke Energy.
Image Credit: Clemson University

BAD CREEK, South Carolina — High school science teacher Sherry East gained credibility with students by wading through Howards Creek to collect aquatic insects.

She ventured 600 feet below the surface of Duke Energy’s Bad Creek hydroelectric plant to learn about the Earth’s fault zone and took an up-close view of the predators found around the Oconee County facility.

These hands-on educational activities are part of a graduate-level course Clemson University offers at Duke Energy’s Bad Creek Outdoor Classroom. The Duke Energy Foundation agreed to sponsor the course again in 2017, offering 16 K-12 teachers an opportunity to complete a graduate-level course and leave with lesson plans to incorporate into their classroom instruction. Duke’s contribution covers tuition, course materials and supplies, food and lodging for students who need to stay on campus.

Duke Energy's Allan Boggs takes students 600 feet below the company's Bad Creek hydroelectric plant in Oconee County.

Duke Energy’s Allan Boggs takes students 600 feet below the company’s Bad Creek hydroelectric plant in Oconee County.
Image Credit: Clemson University

“We’re telling teachers both at universities and at the K-12 level that they shouldn’t just be lecturing, they should be getting students involved in their studies,” said Barbara Speziale, biological sciences professor and associate director of the Watt Family Innovation Center at Clemson.

Speziale developed the course with Duke Energy in 2012 to help teachers better understand the interactions between energy production and the environment. The short, intensive course includes one week of online training, a week of field study at the Bad Creek Outdoor Classroom and a week for participants to complete lesson plans for their classrooms.

Course instructors include Clemson University scientists and Extension agent Patricia Whitener, Duke Energy engineer Allan Boggs and Skip Still, a retired biologist from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Topics covered include wildlife ecology and management, nuclear and hydroelectric power, ecosystem management and geology.

“We want them to understand the interplay of power generation and the environment,” said John Hains, an associate professor of biological sciences who teaches in the course. “We want them to be critical thinkers, and we want them to be able to take that back to the kids in their classes.”

Next year’s course, BIOL 7330: Natural History and Ecology of Bad Creek Hydroelectric Station and Jocassee Gorges, will be taught in late June. Interested teachers can contact Ginger Foulk at foulk@clemson.edu to discuss enrollment. Teachers can take the course for professional recertification or apply the credits toward a degree.

A group of class participants pose for a photo.

A group of class participants pose for a photo.
Image Credit: Clemson University

The Duke Energy Foundation provides about $2 million annually in grants to nonprofits across its South Carolina service territory. Three priorities guide the foundation’s donations: kindergarten to career, which includes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), early childhood literacy and workforce development; the environment; and community impact initiatives, including arts and culture.

“Education has been an important focus for Duke Energy’s charitable giving since the founding of the company more than a century ago,” said Kodwo Ghartey-Tagoe, South Carolina president of Duke Energy. “Talented, dedicated teachers are vital to helping students learn and grow. The sessions at our Bad Creek Hydroelectric Station provide rich, hands-on learning opportunities outside of the classroom that strengthen teachers’ knowledge about the environment.”

Students learn about ecology during a boat tour of Lake Jocasee.

Students learn about ecology during a boat tour of Lake Jocassee.
Image Credit: Clemson University

East, a teacher at Rock Hill schools and vice president of the South Carolina Education Association, recommends the course to other K-12 teachers. She took the course while completing her master’s degree. The short summer course was ideal for her working schedule, and she brought back lesson plans, field guides and informational pamphlets to share with her high school students.

“The great part of it is you take what you learn and apply it in your classroom. This was a real lesson plan that I used. I’ve given lessons on repairing landforms, ecology, land use,” East said. “This has really given me credibility with the kids. I can show them the maps and the pictures. I was there.”

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