My High School Experience with UConn’s GK-12 Program

My name is Catherine Nowakowski but I go by Catrina, and I am a sophomore in Environmental Engineering. I attended Ella T. Grasso Technical High School and was in the Bio-Science Environmental Tech shop where I learned about maintaining environments and lead projects such as building a composting water heating system for Lemelson MIT Invent Teams.

Sophomore year of high school my shop started working with a UConn graduate student, Jason White, who was a mentor in UConn’s GK-12 Program.  He came to the school weekly and would assist in my math classes as well as help instruct my shop.  He presented a competition to me and my classmates, Keep Connecticut Cool.  We had to implement “Green” practices with in our school and give a presentation as a group to a board of judges.  Some of our projects where to collect empty milk cartons during lunch and used them as pots for plants in our green house and maintaining a compost bucket in the kitchens.  We went to Eastern Connecticut College to present and won $1000 for collaboration to put towards making our school a greener environment.

After our success sophomore year Jason presented us with another project for junior and senior year.  We had to come up with an invention and write a proposal for a grant to fund it.  The program was called Lemelson MIT Invent Teams, and if we won the grant we would get to construct our invention and present it at a three day program called EurekaFest.  We came up with a system that used compost to heat water and I took the lead of the project.  I worked with Jason to write our proposal and after a tedious summer we heard back from the judges that we were receiving the grant!

Going through the invention process was invaluable to me.  I learned group dynamics, ran in to many design issues, had to work with a budget and create and expense report.  We also had to document the entire process with videos, monthly reports, photos and even a blog.  Presenting our invention was much different from Keep it Cool this time too.  It was done convention style with a dozen other teams and we were constantly talking, explaining, and demonstrating our invention to a variety of people.  There where peers from other teams, MIT professors, teachers from other schools, and random everyday people.  One man I talked to was from Africa and was very excited about the concept of our invention and thought it was a great solution for the people in his village.

While I was working on these projects I was also being exposed to another aspect of my shop, the water treatment industry.  I toured treatment plants and saw what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to our sinks and toilets.  Sophomore year I completed the course work for Sacramento’s Operation of Wastewater Treatment Plants and junior year I completed the Water Treatment Plant Operation course.  I received CEU’s and a certificate for each program.  Then in my junior year I interviewed for a summer internship at a local waste water treatment plant.  Working at the plant was a very solid introduction to the technical work force.  I was the only girl and the youngest by nearly thirty years.  I often worked with the plant operators assisting in running test and monitoring the plant, but once or twice a week I would get to go in to the field with the mechanics!

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