Two graduate students in the M.S. in Integrative Biological Diversity program at Western Connecticut State University, JoAnn D’Addio and Tim Martin, are utilizing their studies to cultivate a new generation of environmental stewards.
D’Addio is an instructor of biology and special education at Carmel High School in Carmel, New York, where she has worked for 14 years. Martin currently teaches at Stamford High School in Connecticut. He has worked there for four years teaching science.
Martin received his undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of North Dakota and his master’s in Education from the University of Bridgeport before earning a doctorate for Educational Leadership from Southern Connecticut State University. He is now in his last semester at WCSU in pursuit of his master's degree in Biology. This semester, Martin is working on an independent study project centered around beekeeping.
His interest in the discipline stems from a hobby of maintaining his own personal beehive with his son. More recently, he has translated this hobby into the concept for a popular new Beekeeping Club at Stamford High School. The club meets each week after school for about two hours. During the first half of the meeting, Martin discusses what bees are likely doing at that time of year, then the students don their beekeeping suits and observe the hive bees’ behavior to see if it matches their predictions.
“The kids do all the work, as I guide them through the process,” said Martin, “There’s a job for each person, from lighting the smoker, to inspecting the hive, to taking notes. All jobs change from week to week.”
The club was first established after students’ return to in-person learning in 2020 to help them “feel like they’re part of the school community again.” Since Martin is the club’s only supervisor, membership is limited to 15 students. There is an extensive waiting list for the club, and Martin said, “We can open the club up to more students as students graduate in the spring.”
To supplement his work with Stamford High School students, Martin applied for several grant opportunities he learned about from WCSU‘s M.S. in Integrative Biological Diversity Coordinator Dr. Theodora Pinou. As a result, Martin received a $1,000 grant from the National Parks Foundation.
“I plan to take my environmental science students to Weir Farm National Historic Site on a series of three trips where they will sit in the woods alone for hours and journal about their experience,” Martin said. “I’m trying to get them to understand what Thoreau did while writing Walden and then link how his writings influenced Muir and led to the modern environmental movement.”
Fellow graduate student D’Addio aspires to create a similar club at her high school. In the summer of 2021, she became the steward of a plant-pollinator garden at Tarrywile Park in Danbury for her graduate program. This garden is part of a larger movement in the northeast called the Pollinator Pathway, which is an initiative D’Addio would like to implement in Carmel.
D’Addio has been a teacher for 20 years, spending 14 in her current post in Carmel. She is originally from Newburgh, New York, where she attended college. At Mount Saint Mary’s College, she earned her undergraduate degree in Media Studies, while also studying Elementary and Special Education. She then went on to study Literacy for Special Education in graduate school.
D’Addio was informed of the garden by another WCSU graduate student who was the Tarrywile steward in 2020. She describes the Pollinator Pathway as an initiative to combat invasive foreign species of plants that damage the ecosystem and ultimately the environment. “It includes planters planting gardens devoted to native plants,” she said, “which serve as way-stations for native insects and birds to visit and nourish themselves before they move on to the next patch.”
In her day-to-day teaching, D’Addio said that her stewardship experience and classroom studies in the WCSU master’s program have had a profound effect. “The information that I learn in my courses at WestConn has really bolstered my ability to teach my students and be able to provide additional information. I can speak to and have a deeper understanding of topics that are barely covered in the textbook,” said D’Addio. She hopes to see more high school special education teachers access the program provided by WCSU.
WCSU Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Rayda Krell, who has a background in plant-insect interactions, mentored Martin and D’Addio. “Tim and JoAnn came into our master’s program as highly accomplished professionals, but it was so fun to work with them and see how our program gave them opportunities to explore their passions for environmental work. Our Integrative Biological Diversity program provides the structure, ecological expertise and community connections to allow students to execute a project that is meaningful for them. Tim and JoAnn both made the most of the opportunity and chose projects that could connect their passions and professions. I love that our program ends up having exponential impact because they are extending what they learned back to even more students.”