Founded in 1998, the Urban Ecology Institute helps communities build healthy, safe and vibrant cities by improving science education for middle and high school youth and by working with municipalities to facilitate re-greening. In 2010, UEI established an important strategic alliance with Lesley University, in Cambridge, MA. In 2012, UEI opened UEI West as a result of a major strategic alliance with Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles, CA.
UEI is comprised of two programmatic divisions: Education and Sustainable Cities.
Urban youth have little contact with the natural world. To address this, in 1999, UEI launched its field-based science learning program with four Boston Public School teachers and with teachers from 3 other urban schools in the area (Chelsea, Revere and Watertown). By 2002, the program grew to include 20 school programs, 28 teachers, and 500 students.
In 2012, UEI serves more than 100 urban public schools and over 10,000 students in more than a dozen cities. We uniquely offer natural science field studies curricula, which is piloted, assessed and aligned with state and evolving national curriculum requirements.
UEI's curricula and teacher professional development services have been recognized as a highlighted program by the National Science Foundation. Our hands-on, place-based approach to teaching science addresses acute vulnerabilities of urban public school students. By placing science into a familiar context, UEI de-mystifies nature. By using field studies instead of traditional didactic teaching methods, students are able to grasp concepts even if English is not their first language.
In addition to creation of dozens of formal science curriculum modules, UEI "teaches the teachers" how to present and monitor this content using field studies approaches to teaching. UEI presents 8-12 teacher workshops throughout the year culminating in the Teacher Summer Institute at Lesley University each July. UEI also offers on-site assistance for teachers as well as customized kits including all the materials needed for field studies.
From 2000-2005, with the help of Dr. Michael Barnett at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, UEI began measuring its impact on students with the use of a survey called the Science Attitude Inventory (II). UEI administered the survey at the beginning and the end of the school year, to both the students in the program and to control groups of students from the same schools. As described in the journal article: “Improving Urban Youth’s Interest and Engagement through Field-Based Scientific Investigations” (Barnett, Strauss, Rosca, Langford, Chavez, Deni, Lord), students in the program demonstrated a measurable increase in their understanding of scientific method and their interest in both environmental science and science in general. Through the evaluation UEI developed a strong partnership with the Lynch School.
In early 2000, the Natural Cities Program arose from the realization that the rate of destruction of urban natural resources was outpacing the efforts being made to study and understand their contribution to the larger environment. UEI recognized that in order to preserve and restore urban nature, research and advocacy would have to go hand in hand. Keeping in mind that the best advocates for change in an area are the people who live there, UEI set about to become the connective tissue between neighborhood groups, municipal governments and university researchers.
Today, the Sustainable Cities set of programs includes City Roots, which aims to work with urban neighborhoods to transform urban natural resources using methods that are low-cost, rapid, and can be implemented by non-specialists. Since its inception in 2004, City Roots has transformed more than 50 parcels in metro Boston in partnership with the people living there.
Research has been an on-going component of Sustainable Cities. Activities have included Boston's first ever State of the Urban Forest Report and the 2009-2012 Urban Long Term Research Areas Exploratory Project (ULTRA). Funded by the NSF and the USFS, and implemented with leadership from UMass Amherst, UEI took a leadership role in bringing together researchers and regional government practitioners to develop climate change scenarios for metro Boston.
UEI launched a pilot program in early 2001 to develop tools that would help community groups identify, map, prioritize and restore critical ecological resources in an urban watershed. Today, through its Urban Forestry Tools Program, UEI is producing urban forestry reports for several Massachusetts cities and developing a unique, standardized database that aggregates canopy data regionally.
What Is Urban Ecology?
Urban Ecology is a new branch of environmental studies that seeks to understand the natural systems of urban areas and the threats that face them. Urban ecologists study the trees, rivers, wildlife and open spaces found in cities to understand the extent of those resources and the way they are affected by pollution, over-development and other pressures.
Urban Ecology research helps people see their city in a new way - as part of a living ecosystem with valuable resources that promote better health and quality of life. The information it produces helps urban residents and policymakers make informed decisions and take action to restore these resources before they are lost.