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Volunteer Spotlight: Cook County Citizen Scientist

citizen scientists walking in the woods

CSX has awarded $40,000 in support of Cook County Citizen Scientists, a pilot program offered by the Forest Preserve District that showcases a citizen science project in our region.

The exciting new program focuses on educating youth from diverse backgrounds on the importance of environmental stewardship and introduces them to potential careers in science through participation in plant monitoring programs. District staff train community members and teachers and co-facilitate the data collection and interpretation process.

This year’s showcased project is The Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN), a data aggregation effort targeting early detection and rapid response to invasive species in the Midwest. The program will add new projects in future years, offering a range of citizen science opportunities.

Cook County Citizen Scientists uses technology to create mobile field monitoring stations. Students hike into the preserves to identify, monitor and finally help remove invasive species populations. The data is then shared with scientists at Michigan State University through MISIN.

The program expansion will allow the District to reach 600 youth, 11–18 years old, through community-based organizations, and to train 25 teachers and 30 volunteers as trainers themselves. “Training the trainers” will ensure that local communities are able to carry out the Citizen Scientists program independently and longterm.

The funds, given through the Forest Preserve Foundation, will purchase 30 tablet computers, 15 hand-held GPS units and wireless cards and support a seasonal intern.