The Herpetology Education in Rural Places & Spaces (HERPS) project is a four-year full-scale development project designed to engage diverse North Carolina residents from the Central Piedmont, Eastern Piedmont, and Inner Coastal Plain regions of the state in conservation and field experiences focused on herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians. The project targets rural underrepresented groups in STEM; predominately African-Americans, Hispanics, and Lumbee Native Americans. The University of North Carolina-Greensboro and its partner organizations, Elon University and University of North Carolina-Pembroke, will partner to develop and implement all phases of the project. Ultimately, the project aims to increase knowledge of and interest in herpetology and related conservation issues, provide authentic research experiences, and better understand identity-related motivations and affordances of the casual, regular, and enthusiastic participant across project strands.
HERPS builds on four pilot studies and will engage people of all ages in a broad range of herpetological activities including: (a) an annual herpetology-focused community event (HERPS Celebrations), (b) technology resources such as a project website and customized mobile applications (HERPS Cyberhub), (c) summer and year-long herpetological research experiences (HREs) for high school students and teachers, and (d) in-depth longitudinal herpetological study opportunities (e.g., box turtle study). In addition, there is separate but integrated research stand that will focus on identity and HERPS experiences, as settings for informal science learning. The identity research will study: (a) identity-related motivations and (b) identity-related affordances of casual, regular and enthusiastic participants across threads. In addition, an extensive formative and summative evaluation will be conducted using a mixed methods approach by an external evaluator.
Using a multiple-entry-points approach for learning and engagement, this project could serve as a replicable model for similar efforts in other settings. In addition, the results of the identity reseach strand could fill a critical gap in the identity and informal science education research bases. With an average estimated reach of nearly 15,000 people of all ages and diverse backgrounds, the potential broader impacts of this project could be extensive.