Stormwater Management and Research Team (SMART)

A youth-led water quality management team which aims to provide female students with opportunities to explore environmental STEM

Photo of Amara Ifeji
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Date You Started Your Project Started

June 24, 2019

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The pervasive, aquatic effects of climate change are evident all over the world, but particularly in the state of Maine where marine life is threatened due to ocean acidification, bodies of water are severely impaired as a result of nutrient pollution, and The Gulf of Maine has warmed 99% faster than all the world’s oceans. Therefore, it is imperative that work is done to protect aquatic life and water bodies across the state.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Water quality management has proven to be the most effective and only preventative means to protect streams, lakes, rivers, and water bodies alike. Therefore, in rectifying the issue of climate change exacerbated water body impairment, I proposed organizing a youth-led group at my high school to help manage The Penobscot Watershed, an impaired watershed in the state of Maine. In bringing this idea to light, I organized and secured funding for the SMART summer institute, a weeklong, water quality training institute, specifically for students of color, those who identify as female, and those from socioeconomically underserved backgrounds, all groups of individuals whose voices are often left out in the environmental sector. During the school year, the team engages in water quality sampling endeavors, designs research-based solutions to water quality issues, and presents the collected data to the local community so that they may be informed on how best to preserve their water bodies.

3. Using STEM as a force of good: Please specify how are you using STEM to solve for an environmental challenge you are passionate about.

Each week, the members of the Stormwater Management and Research Team participate in sampling endeavors in order to protect our state's precious water bodies. We use water-quality sensors that give us accurate measurements for important water quality parameters including temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, and E.coli. Due to limited funding, the team has engineered many of these aforementioned sensors utilizing inexpensive Arduino Unos, electrical wires, and a programming language made available by our high school. Once we gathered the data, analyzed all points of interest in the data set, and made graphical representations, all team members designed and executed sustainable, research-based solutions to these water quality issues, which we presented at our state science fair. These research projects include designing better remote sensing technology for sampling endeavors, engineering greener plastic water bottle substitutes, and producing filters to aid in pollutant remediation to name a few. All methods implemented by the team are methodical, tactical, and require much STEM knowledge in order to execute.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

My half-hour of freedom, aka recess, always left me with mud-stained hands and clothing. This is because I'd spend this time collecting rocks, crafting mud pies, and making friends with the little wriggles deep in the dirt. During my sophomore year of high school, I was further able to explore my environmental interests by attending a similar water quality training institute to the one I organized myself. There, I discovered my passion for water justice as I was made aware of the harsh realities of water scarcity in places like Flint, Bangladesh, and even at my own high school, where drinking water fountains were shut down due to elevated concentrations of lead. Therefore, when funding the institute became an issue the following summer, I myself volunteered to spearhead the endeavor and shed light on the issue of water scarcity, specifically in the state of Maine.

5. Video (Keep it simple, a video made on a hand-held phone is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because of the rights of the one billion and more. The one billion and more individuals who are robbed of the access to clean drinking water. Each week, I, alongside the other members of the Stormwater Management and Research Team, choose to go water testing in the unpredictable Maine weather, thus rewriting a narrative and creating a pathway for the future that we want to see. We do our part because no one should be robbed of their human right to clean water

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

Since Summer 2019, I authored a $5000 grant, planned an eventful schedule, coordinated with water quality experts, and recruited high school students who wanted to explore their environmental STEM interests. I led said students through field sampling, tours of stormwater facilities, and exposed them to pressing environmental issues. During the school year, I facilitated weekly meetings, mentored each member on a water quality research project, and showcased our work to the public.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

There are several things that make SMART unique. For one, SMART has always been committed to providing students of color, those who identify as female, and those from socioeconomically underserved backgrounds opportunities to explore environmental STEM because of the evident disparities of these groups of individuals in the environmental sector. Secondly, SMART is one of the only youth-driven water quality management groups in the state of Maine. Lastly, SMART is also committed to not only identifying key water quality issues, but also developing research-based solutions to said issues.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?

Although our sampling season typically ends in December, when water bodies begin to freeze, from the early summer to the late fall, the team amassed over 900 cells worth of water quality data. This data not only serves to help us pinpoint specific water quality issues, but given that this data can be accessed by the public, it can also help city and local officials in pinpointing sources of pollution and other water-related issues. The SMART team has spoken at several public events including those we have organized and those we have been invited to keynote at. There, we are able to share our findings with hundreds of members of the public and better inform them of how they might aid us in preserving Maine's bodies of water. Similarly, the SMART's commitment to inspiring those whose voices have been left out in the environmental movement has empowered 40+ young girls to engage in research

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

My goal for SMART was to have teams all across the state of Maine, and even across the country. I am currently working on making this goal a reality. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will not be a formal training institute. Therefore, I am currently working on training materials for a virtual institute. I am still in the beginning stages of this endeavor, which includes outreach to students across the state of Maine, planning what a virtual institute might look like, and working with water quality professionals. During the fall, these students will spearhead SMART teams at their schools that will convene with the original SMART team once a week to share data and report on interesting findings.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

As president of SMART, my role entails the recruitment of other high-school-aged youth who are interested in water justice and environmental STEM. In recruiting these individuals, I invite all who expressed an interest in the subject to the annual, summer training institute. There, through hands-on learning, testimonials, and data they collect, they are able to see the water scarcity firsthand and thus are inspired to be the change they want to see by continuing in the program.

11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

I would love to partner with other changemakers in rewriting the environmental issues that threaten our planet. I have always envisioned a national, perhaps the global hub of environmental activists who share their work and findings, thus inspiring others to do the same. I envision monthly meetings, rallies for climate justice, amongst other things.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

I would share with others the hard evidence of water scarcity so that they can witness its effects firsthand and want to get involved in restoring the rights of the one billion and more individuals who do not have access to clean drinking water like the rest of us do.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Donations between $1k-$5k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media
  • Search engine
  • Ashoka page or contact

Evaluation results

7 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Probably - 57.1%

Maybe - 28.6%

Probably not - 0%

No - 14.3%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 42.9%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 28.6%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 28.6%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 0%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 0%

4 - Yes, I think so - 28.6%

3 - Maybe - 57.1%

2 - Probably not. - 0%

1 - No - 14.3%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 100%

4 - Yes, I think so - 100%

3 - Maybe - 100%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 50%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 14.3%

4 - Yes, I think so - 28.6%

3 - Maybe - 28.6%

2 - Probably not - 14.3%

1 - No - 14.3%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 0%

4- Yes, I think so - 40%

3- Maybe - 40%

2- Probably not - 0%

1- No - 20%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 100%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 66.7%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 33.3%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 33.3%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 0%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 33.3%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 0%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 50%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 0%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 100%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 100%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Sarah Holcomb

Hi Amara and team! Wow. Your initiative blew me away! Such an amazing example of the change we can achieve by harnessing the power of young people and STEM to take on our biggest environmental challenges. I love how you’re bringing both awareness and action to the issue of water justice. As you look to build a nationwide movement in the future, this group of #STEMforChangemaking challenge participants is a great place to start. Best of luck!

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