Tiffany Carey thinks environmental research projects that don’t involve community members are troubling. So when, as an environmental studies major at the University of Michigan, she had the chance to conduct her own research, she chose a project that involved students from Detroit’s Western International High School. Carey’s research focused on pollen as a cause of high rates of asthma and allergies in urban areas. During the course of three years, the public school’s ninth and tenth grade biology students placed homemade pollen collectors in vacant lots, parks, and other areas in the community to measure the levels of ragweed pollen, which is notorious for causing allergic reactions.
The research project verified that vacant lots were pollen-abundant areas. Carey then focused her attention on solutions like urban reforestation and mowing, which would help reduce ragweed in urban areas. She also tracked the impact that participating in the citizen science project had on the students and found that hands-on practice of the scientific method helped make ecology relevant to the high schoolers.