As a scientist and educator at the nearby St. Francis College, Kathy Nolan is one of the most natural fits for being a Park Person that you can imagine. This is why she has been and is currently involved with countless Conservancy programs benefitting youth all throughout New York City.
What do you do you do when you’re not in the park?
I am a Biology professor at St. Francis College and am the Chair of the Biology and Health Promotion Dept. I teach biology and ecology-related courses.
Please describe what you do for/with the park
We are partnering with the park on several projects:
-Kara Gilmour and Nim Lee have been helping us with seining (fishing) projects that we have conducted with college, high school and middle school students. We have also been recording the data and comparing it to places in other areas of the estuary, such as in the Hudson River in Yonkers. We’ve submitted a paper about this to a science journal.
-Sustainability classes in which students learn about the recycling of wood from factories to build benches, and stones from old bridges to make steps to sit on.
-Horticulture and plants – a mini-plant ID course was lead by Rebecca McMackin for the Botany class, which the students loved.
-Water quality testing experiments.
-Many of these projects have been done in conjunction with an after-school program that meets one day a week – we are in our third year of that. We conduct this one-day a week from 4-6 P.M., and on some Saturdays. We also do a three-week Summer Science Academy, in which we do sustainability studies, kayaking and seining with the BBPC.
For three summers in a row, BBPC has employed six St. Francis college students to conduct surveys of park usage. Someday I hope we can get an awesome scholarly paper out of this!
The BBPC is co-hosting with me a program called YES! (Youth Estuarine Seining) programs, in which we are trying to form a consortium of youth seining programs.
How did you become interested in education?
My first job when I graduated from college was as a lab technician at Yeshiva University, so I became acquainted with academics. I worked on a Masters in Biology at City College, and then tried teaching junior high school science for two years in Manhattan. Yeshiva offered me a lab teaching job, and I eventually finished my Ph.D., through CUNY at City College. The natural progression after that was a teaching job with a little research on the side!
What’s the most exciting discovery you’ve made in or around the park?
I think the fish, crabs, comb jellies, and jellyfish that we find under the Manhattan Bridge are truly amazing! Finding less common fish such as flounder, toadfish, and kingfish is really satisfying.
What’s an interesting fact you’ve learned about Brooklyn or the park since you started collaborating with us?
That yellow pine from the tobacco storage facilities is now used for the benches in the park. The water filtration system and solar panels are pretty cool, too. Being able to take a ferry from Pier 6 to Governor’s Island is great!
What do you like about the park?
I love that it tries to combine nature with development in a harmonious way. I love anything aquatic, so the views of the water, the Statue of Liberty, the excitement of boats and ferries passing by, the greenery, and being able to find fish off a sandy beach are great. I love kayaking there, and that there is a bike path now. If my kids were little, I’d be in the creative playgrounds. It feels accessible to all ages.
What motivates you to partner with the park?
We had a meeting with Nancy, Kara and Alison three years ago, and they were truly wonderful. We began the intern program and seining partnerships right away. They have been very upbeat and accommodating, and I think our students have really benefitted from their programming.
Why is it important to provide free and low cost educational programs about the park?
Through our programs, I have been able to witness hundreds of kids’ faces light up when they were able to catch fish, handle a kayak, collect a water sample, view the Statue of Liberty. Too often, kids are stuck inside in front of TV’s or computer games – it is so important for our kids to get outside and experience nature. They will be our future citizens, policy makers about the parks and rivers, and stewards of our environment. Besides, we always walk from St. Francis to and from the park, so we are sneaking in a little healthy exercise too!
What is it about Brooklyn Bridge Park that makes it good for these types of partnerships?
The Conservancy has personnel that have been super helpful in helping us achieve our goals of ecology, environmental science and marine biology education. It is so close (less than two miles to St. Francis, and the students can really take ownership of it. It is fairly large – students can walk the mile length of it and see a variety of different landscapes, or participate in various activities.