Coastal@VT co-leader Anamaria Bukvic and Coastal@VT faculty member Sarah Karpanty led a Kids’ Tech University session about the impacts of sea level rise on March 30 at Virginia Tech.

The Kids' Tech University program is different from other kids' programs because it puts real researchers in front of children to give exciting interactive sessions based on those famous "why" questions that have always intrigued children.

Bukvic and Karpanty were part of the Kids’ Tech University 10-year anniversary program.

Co-founded by former faculty member Reinhard Laubenbaucher and Kristy Collins in 2009 at the Biocomplexity Institute, the program is run much like European science education programs with hands-on components and lectures from scientists. Originally designed to be a small outreach program, Kids’ Tech University has grown to hosting 450 kids per session and has expanded to two states and multiple universities and science museums. Kids' Tech University is now supported by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute after the recent transfer of assets from the Biocomplexity Institute. 

Experiential learning is at the core of the Kids’ Tech University program. By hearing experts in the field and doing activities that foster deep learning, students are well-prepared to continue in STEM education and eventually into STEM careers.

“We've built a program that has proven success. I would like to see more Virginia Tech faculty take advantage of the program and include it in their grants to expand their outreach agenda,” said Collins, director of Kids’ Tech University. 

Experts Bukvic and Karpanty led a talk titled “The sea is rising! How do we know, why does it matter, and what can we do?” They began the session by talking about their educational backgrounds and why they became scientists.

“I remember growing up near a small neighborhood library and reading every book that was available. I was fascinated by questions about natural sciences and how people interact with the environment,” said Bukvic, an affiliated faculty member of the Global Change Center, an arm of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

Bukvic is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and co-leader of the Coastal@VT initiative at Virginia Tech. She has a multidisciplinary education that drives her dedication to study complex issues with a focus on interdisciplinary integration and holistic problem-solving. Bukvic’s research focuses on coastal adaptation, resilience, and vulnerability, as well as on hazard-induced population displacement and relocation.

Karpanty remembers growing up fishing and camping with her family. “Spending time outside studying nature and animals is what made me happy. I initially began to ask questions about why birds migrate, which ultimately led to my career in conservation,” she said. 

Karpanty is an associate professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation also in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech and an affiliated faculty member of Coastal@VT. Karpanty studies how changing climate impacts wildlife and the recovery of imperiled species, ranging from lemurs in the rainforests of Madagascar to shorebirds on the U.S. Atlantic Coast. She is interested in how human communities can make choices in the face of climate change that both help people and wildlife.

“To be a scientist, you need to ask questions, make observations, follow where your interests are, and use a set of tools to solve problems,” said Karpanty.  

At the Kids’ Tech University event, Bukvic and Karpanty introduced the problem of sea level rise and climate change. They explained the difference between weather and climate: weather is the day-to-day state of the atmosphere but climate is the long-term trend in weather.