The Clinch River Environmental Studies Organization (CRESO) is an education/research program with a mission of:
• providing middle, high school, and undergraduate students opportunities for unique field research and extended learning experiences in areas of research design and protocols, data management and analysis, biology, and resources conservation and management and
• promoting community outreach and education through student-driven programs and
Established in 1989, CRESO is supported by the US Department of Energy (DOE), Anderson County Schools, Oak Ridge Schools, the University of Tennessee Forest Resources Research & Education Center, and the Environmental Sciences Division of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Research focuses on inventory and long-term monitoring of the population status and activity patterns of selected species in Anderson County, TN. Examples include bird banding of breeding migrants, dynamics of canopy gaps, radiotelemetry of snakes and turtles, monitoring of terrestrial and aquatic amphibians, and using trained "turtle dogs" for determining population densities and age structure of the eastern box turtle, the TN state reptile.
Students share their project findings and conservation ideas at science fairs and professional meetings, in scientific journals, on the CRESO website, and through outreach workshops including K-12 classrooms and community groups such as Oak Ridge Institute for ContinuedLearning. Several CRESO students have continued their research after entering college and subsequently published their findings as a senior thesis or in peer-reviewed journals. New research and outreach initiatives include developing and piloting a standards-based box turtle curriculum, assisting local elementary schools in wetland creation/restoration and study methods, and providing guidance about wetland curriculum design. The program is coordinated by teachers of biology, math, and science from area schools, and instruction is further augmented and enriched by volunteer scientists, conservationists, and natural resource professionals who give their time and share their experience with CRESO students.
A main goal of CRESO is to actively engage middle and high school students in meaningful long-term ecological field studies that focus on the flora and fauna of East Tennessee, specifically the Valley and Ridge ecoregion. Over 500 students have directly participated in CRESO research efforts since the program was initially funded in 1989 by a grant from DOE. The majority (95%) of students that work for CRESO enter the field of science after graduation, and several students have returned to Anderson County to teach science in the local school systems.
Student researchers conduct detailed inventory and long-term monitoring projects that provide information on the physical parameters, macro and microhabitat preferences, and population trends of targeted species. A high priority is placed on using and developing protocols that consider the well-being of study organisms and insure quality control of large data sets. A variety of biomonitoring techniques are used to identify potential abiotic and biotic factors that influence population structure and temporal changes in community assemblages. Applied technologies (e.g., GIS, radiotelemetry, pit tags) are used to study intraspecific and interspecific interactions of individual organisms and how they use their three-dimensional landscape. Documenting the interactions and landscape use patterns is critical for understanding community dynamics (e.g., who competes with whom, how critical resources are partitioned, disturbance responses).
CRESO outreach education programs have been presented to thousands of individuals within the local area and across the United States and Canada. The CRESO research model has continued to improve, and student participants have consistently maintained a distinguished level of research standards and ethics.
Another important CRESO objective is to provide appropriate outlets for presenting research results. Students regularly speak at professional conferences and have reported new findings in several peer-reviewed publications, supporting the CRESO goal of quality research. Because student researchers have traditionally demonstrated a solid work ethic, opportunities to interact with professional ecologists and data managers are increasingly available to them. This early exposure to a range of experts is a key factor in helping students mature in their scientific thinking.