Ashley Eaton Connects People to Place Through Citizen Science

By Shari Halik, Communicator
April 29, 2020

You can find Ashley Eaton, Watershed and Lake Education Coordinator for Lake Champlain Sea Grant, in a K-12 classroom, at a waterfront laboratory, along a local stream, or on board a research vessel on Lake Champlain. In each location, surrounded by engaged students and their teachers, she introduces them to watershed science in the Lake Champlain basin.

“In the work that I do here in the basin, citizen science is a fundamental component,” said Ashley. “Our goal is to increase awareness and knowledge of watershed issues in youth.”

Ashley oversees the Watershed Alliance program at both the University of Vermont (UVM) and the State University of New York (SUNY) Plattsburgh. Ashley provides curricula, equipment, and instructors to schools and youth groups participating in the program and supports teachers who wish to integrate watershed education into their own teaching curriculum. 

Watershed Alliance provides learning in watershed science to the basin’s youngest citizens. Each year, Ashley and her two full-time education staff, Caroline Blake at UVM and Nate Trachte at SUNY Plattsburgh, reach 3000 K-12 students throughout the Lake Champlain basin in Vermont and New York.

Ashley also coordinates watershed science professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers. Through K-12 programs and teacher-based courses, she and her staff engage more than 125 teachers throughout the Lake Champlain basin each year.  

“Citizen science is so valuable because it engages individuals from the community in evaluating their local ecosystems,” said Ashley. “It connects people to place and is a conduit to build awareness and knowledge.”

“By using place and citizen science, I am able to foster a deeper relationship between those participating in the program and their watershed,” she said. “What makes this so powerful is that it often leads to higher rates of behavior change—when you love and value something, you take care of it."

The Northeast Sea Grant program recently nominated Ashley as a finalist for the National Sea Grant Outstanding Outreach Achievement Award for her efforts through Watershed Alliance to bring science surrounding local water issues to the people who live and work and go to school in the basin. The award recipient will be announced during national Sea Grant Week in September 2020.

Ashley and her staff also oversee a watershed education internship program for undergraduate students who wish to gain career-building, real world experience and training in environmental education. Interns help to teach the K-12 programs as Watershed Educators. Each year, Ashley and her staff hire 10 to 20 undergraduate students to work with them in the classroom and field to involve K-12 students and their teachers in aquatic science.

Whether they meet students in the classroom, at the UVM Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory and SUNY’s Lake Champlain Research Institute, or aboard the UVM research vessel Melosira on Lake Champlain, Ashley and her staff and trained undergraduate Watershed Educators bring to life current research and freshwater stressors that impact the Lake Champlain basin. 

“As a bridge between research and the community,” said Ashley, “our program aims to connect K-12 teachers and their students with real world challenges and engage students in hands-on field science and stewardship to improve water quality in the basin.”

A native Vermonter, Ashley spent summers with her family on the Georgia shore of Lake Champlain. Her early forays into the natural world around water inspired her career path. She earned a BS in elementary education with a concentration in the environmental sciences and a MS in natural resources from the University of Vermont.

She now sees the Georgia shore of her childhood facing severe water quality challenges and the impacts of cyanobacteria blooms and climate change. She has dedicated her educational and professional pursuits to helping create a sustainable future for Vermont, the greater Lake Champlain basin, and beyond.

“It’s really important to me that the work I do aligns with my values of sustainability, inclusion, and place,” said Ashley. “One aspect that I appreciate about my job is that every day is different. Each day, I engage and work collaboratively with folks from a variety of organizations and communities from across the basin and Vermont.”

Beyond Watershed Alliance’s regular Stream Monitoring and Stewardship K-12 program, Ashley runs other outreach and education opportunities including Lake Champlain Live aboard the Melosira, Keeping the Balance at the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Lab, Zoom a Scientist, and several K-12 teacher professional development courses. Ashley collaborates with local partners to offer the 4-H programs Teens Reaching Youth and Science on Lake Champlain and summer camp programs with the Community Sailing Center on the Lake Champlain waterfront, among others.


Watershed Alliance has two hub locations, one at the University of Vermont, a partnership between UVM Extension and the UVM Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and one, based out of SUNY Plattsburgh and the Lake Champlain Research Institute.