By: Gavindya Jayawardena & Bhanuka Mahanama

More than a dozen students from six Hampton Roads high schools participated in the first-ever Coastal Adaptation and Resilience Education (CARE) summer camp in-person from July 24 to July 28 at Old Dominion University. The Virginia Space Grant Consortium sponsored the event with faculty and graduate student instructors from ODU’s Department of Computer Science, Political Science and Geography, and the School of Public Service.  The camp focused on students learning how data science can help understand and improve water quality to enhance coastal resilience. The CARE camp participants also learned about some of the challenges faced by the cities in Hampton Roads due to coastal flooding.

The weeklong summer program was conducted by ODU Assistant Professor Sampath Jayarathna, Ph.D. and Academic Success Advisor Nirmala Karunatathna, Ph.D. from the Department of Computer Science in collaboration with Professor Wie Yusuf, Ph.D. from the School of Public Service, and Professor Tom Allen, Ph.D. from ODU’s Political Science and Geography Department. Jayarathna provided knowledge on data science, and other ODU faculty members offered their expertise in water quality testing, sea-level rise, coastal resilience, and various experiments. In addition, the program included coding sessions conducted by Department of Computer Science graduate students Yasith Jayawardana, Gavindya Jayawardena, Yasasi Abeysinghe, and Bhanuka Mahanama with support from David Calano from the Web Science and Digital Libraries Research Group.

STEM Summer Camp High School

Students in the CARE program attend Bayside High School, Ocean Lakes High School, and Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach. Also, participants attend Norfolk Academy, Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, and Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies located in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

During the first three days of the five-day program, students had coding sessions, including fundamentals of programming, numerical operations, data handling, visualizations, and basic machine learning. "Computer coding is becoming ubiquitous for everyday learning," said Assistant Professor Jayarathna. "Python is the de-facto language for Data Science, and one of the easiest programming languages for beginners to learn." These sessions allowed students to familiarize themselves with widely used Python libraries in data science, such as NumPy, Pandas, Seaborn, and SciKit Learn. Furthermore, they also got the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a simple scientific workflow with Google Colab. "It is very exciting to see students learn a new coding language within a few days and create these amazing visualizations to explore the data extracted from flood sensors,” said Jayarathna.

On the third day of the CARE camp, participants took part in an outdoor session involving data collection for a water quality testing study. The participants collected water samples from the university pond following procedures of a standard scientific experiment, such as preventing contamination of samples. Then, they were tasked with determining water quality measures such as dissolved oxygen, acidity, and water temperature. The session provided them with valuable experience in challenges in data collection for an experiment.

The following day, the students gained experience in geospatial data analysis and flooding. Professor Allen hosted a lecture and an outdoor activity with sensors at the ODU sailing center. Students learned the basic  operating principles of flood sensors and their usage in marine research, like estimating ocean levels. Also, the students had a demo with HyDrone, a marine autonomous vehicle capable of monitoring a marine environment. “Hands-on experience analyzing tides and water level data using a GIS engaged the students,” said Allen. The students simulated potential sea level rise flooding in Norfolk. “Their exercises mimic real-world, applied analyses that are crucial to adapting to coastal hazards and climate change in Hampton Roads.”

On the last day of the CARE camp, the students had an outdoor session where they helped with a beach cleanup program while learning about marine debris and human sensors. The students were taught about the concepts of crowdsourcing through mobile applications such as the Clean Swell app, which allows monitoring of marine waste on a broader scale. Also, Jennifer Whytlaw, Ph.D., assistant professor of Applied GIS at ODU’s Political Science and Geography, and Ms. Robin Dunbar, deputy director of Education on the Elizabeth River Project helped the teenagers during resilience activities on the final day. “The focus of this day’s activities was on students learning how they could themselves be sources of data in their every day lives,” said Professor Wie Yusuf. “Over the course of the camp they developed important skills for what to do with data, but they also now have insights as to where data can come from.”

Following the outdoor activity, the participants had a final session and received award certificates and ODU swag.

The CARE camp proved successful in equipping participants with essential knowledge and skills needed to understand and improve water quality and to enhance coastal resilience. By integrating data science, water quality testing, geospatial analysis, and hands-on experiences like beach cleanups, the program fostered a holistic understanding of the challenges posed by coastal environments.