CALS researchers partner in effort to prepare rural youth for bioenergy careers

A new partnership among UW-Madison researchers, the College of Menominee Nation, and educators in northern Wisconsin is forming to help take on the challenge of finding sustainable energy solutions by preparing the next generation of citizens and scientists. This partnership and project, funded by a $4.7 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture, focuses on preparing rural youth for bioenergy-related careers as well as connecting researchers from the College of Menominee Nation (CMN) and the University of Wisconsin, Madison (UW-Madison).

The project is called POSOH (po-SO), meaning “hello” in the Menominee language, to reflect the premise that preparing youth for career and business opportunities in bioenergy and sustainability can generate transformative new hope within our region’s families and tribal communities. The POSOH mission is to:

Develop strategies for preparing all learners—including typically underserved youth from non-mainstream cultures—to pursue bioenergy- and sustainability-related studies and careers, while exploring the contributions of traditional and scientific ways of knowing to our understanding of ecosystems and sustainability.

POSOH draws strength from two groups in our region that are both noteworthy for their focus on sustainability: Sustainable Development Institute of CMN—recognized internationally for their education, research and outreach in sustainable forestry and sustainable development based on the Menominee values—and the research of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center —the only Office of Science, Department of Energy-funded bioenergy center with a branch of study devoted to understanding sustainability. The multicultural education model of POSOH will embrace learning both traditional (from Native American collaborators) and scientific ways of understanding sustainability (including recent developments from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the Sustainable Development Institute). The educational aspect of this project will emphasize what being carbon-neutral means and the fundamental concepts related to what is typically called the carbon cycle.

Developing multicultural learning materials and opportunities as one way to build our understanding of sustainability and prepare students for a new energy era through POSOH is a joint venture among scientists, educators, and industry partners. UW-Madison biochemistry professor Rick Amasino, is one of the principal investigators who helped secure the funding for POSOH along with UW-Madison’s Hedi Baxter Lauffer, the director of the Wisconsin Fast Plants Program, and CMN’s Melissa Cook, the director of the Sustainable Development Institute. Other partners include Bob Kellogg, director of the Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA 8) that serves 27 school districts in northeastern Wisconsin, John Greenler, the education outreach program director with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at UW, Charles (Andy) Anderson, principal investigator of the environmental literacy project at Michigan State University; along with local project evaluator, Nicole Bowman.

POSOH’s work will take place primarily in the region of the Menominee Nation, expanding to additional sites during the latter part of its five-year’s funding. As the POSOH project matures, its multicultural education model and the bioenergy / sustainability research that emerges will be disseminated nationally via presentations, publications and online forums.