Education and the Environment: Using Data Visualizations to Build Environmental Awareness
Kevin Hollerbach knew that he wanted to be a scientist from the time his parents first took him whale watching. Inspired by his high school instructors, Hollerbach developed a passion for teaching, and this, combined with his environmental interest, has driven a desire to educate others about environmental issues. While pursuing a Master’s degree in Sustainability Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Hollerbach also enrolled in education courses, blending his two passions and solidifying the foundation so that one day he could build public awareness about environmental issues.
The University’s career services center first alerted Hollerbach to an ORISE fellowship program with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He saw that public education was a focus of the research appointment, so he knew it would be a great fit for his interest. After applying and interviewing, Hollerbach was accepted and started his program with ORISE and the EPA.
The EPA Research Participation Programs provide college students, recent graduates, and university faculty opportunities to participate in current environmental research in areas such as air and radiation, water quality, solid waste and emergency response.
Hollerbach is conducting research with the communications team in the Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds (OWOW) in Washington D.C. He and his team’s efforts focused on highlighting diverse program efforts ranging from protecting water quality to restoring wetlands and safeguarding the nation’s marine and estuarine resources. Hollerbach has helped to produce fact-sheets, banners, web pages, videos, infographics, and much more for various branches within the EPA.
Hollerbach has also used his graduate training to harness the power of data visualization and GIS mapping to better convey environmental issues. The goal of these efforts is to create graphs, charts, or other visual aids to better explain scientific data in an accessible way for lay audiences. One method he uses to do this is called ESRI Story Mapping, which is an interactive way to display maps, photographs, and videos that highlight a particular issue or concept.
“I hope that my research is helping to inform the average American about the important work being done by the EPA, and how every American has the opportunity to help the environment within their sphere of influence,” says Hollerbach.
When asked about his favorite aspects of being with the EPA, Hollerbach cites how much he’s learned about the functions of government and how it operates. He also notes the incredible opportunity to be with such a passionate and dedicated team at the EPA.
Regarding the ORISE fellowship program, Hollerbach says that it offers a great first step towards a government career, and the learning opportunities are unlikely to be found elsewhere. To quote Hollerbach, “I have actually forwarded some ORISE announcements to my Master’s program director to encourage other students to apply”.
In the future, Hollerbach says that he is interested in a government career at a scientific agency, but is also considering returning to school to pursue a Doctorate degree.
The EPA Research Participation Program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for the U.S Department of Energy by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).