Elgin High School’s annual National Biodiversity Teach-In returns with 25 free webinars

Scientists from around the world will participate in this year’s National Biodiversity Teach-In, organized annually by environmental science students at Elgin High School. Featuring a series of webinars in February, the event is designed to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity and inspire participants to take part in environmental protection.

The National Biodiversity Teach-In will feature 25 webinars, all free and open to the public, on Fridays in February. Subjects to be addressed during this year’s Teach-In include the evolution of snakes and their venom; snow leopard conservation; rare frogs; welfare of captive whales; prairie restoration; the importance of native plants; and polar bears in a changing Arctic.

As in previous years, the 2024 Teach-In is expected to draw environmental science enthusiasts, as well as whole classrooms of students, from around the globe. Over the years, it has registered more than 110,000 participants from more than 27 countries.

Environmental students at Elgin High School, guided by several teachers, have been working on the 2024 Teach-In for months. Student organizers delegate the event responsibilities by committees. They troubleshoot technology issues, register participants, respond to media requests, advertise, and create promotional materials.

Autumn McGowan, an Elgin High graduate, is now a conservation fellow at The Nature Conservancy. McGowan supports the work of the organization across the Midwest and the Great Lakes with research, writing, and data analysis. She will be presenting on The Nature Conservancy’s work with reefs in the Great Lakes on Feb. 9.

“From being an EHS student who helped with the National Biodiversity Teach-In in 2019, to now having the opportunity to be a presenter, is incredible,” she said. “It is so much fun working with the EHS students and staff, and I am really looking forward to the 2024 webinars.”

Elizabeth Bach, an ecosystem restoration scientist at the Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, will speak on “Prarie Restoration and Soil Biodiversity.“ Her program is one of the seven webinars scheduled for Feb. 2. Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

The webinars are scheduled during the school day on Fridays, Feb. 2-23. Each speaker will give a presentation based on their specialty and also include dedicated time for questions and answers.

As was the case in recent years, the Teach-In will feature a day of sessions with nearly all female presenters for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a declaration from the United Nations General Assembly to encourage a new generation of female scientists to tackle the major challenges of our time by leading innovation in science and technology.

In addition to McGowan, among the women presenting Feb. 9, are Jillian Morris, a marine biologist and a shark conservationist; Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist; Dr. Bonnie Hamilton, a ecotoxicologist who studies contaminants in the Arctic; Sonya Harris, a plant biologist; and Dr. Cassandra Debets, an arctic ecologist who works with Polar Bears International.

Student organizers of the Teach-In made an effort this year to add programming on topics that have mass appeal. For instance, Becky Chaplin-Kramer is a global biodiversity scientist who works at the World Wildlife Fund to advance the science and implantation of conservation strategies to support biodiversity. In Feb. 23 presentation, she will focus on how satellites can monitor biodiversity and be a tool to help reduce global deforestation.

The webinars first began at EHS in 2013 to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity. The 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon in 2014 and the story of Martha, the last known living passenger pigeon, increased the students’ interest and desire to discuss biodiversity with some of the best experts in the field.

“Every year is more exciting as we make contact with scientists in different fields, allowing our students an opportunity to explore science in a new and different way,” said Elgin High science teacher Brigid Trimble, who helped launch the event.

The Teach-In website at has a full schedule and details on the speakers and topics being discussed. Those who register to attend a webinar will receive a personalized Zoom link.

Webinars will also be live streamed on the Teach-In’s YouTube channel the day of the event and

Feb. 2

Koustubh Sharma, a senior regional ecologist with the Snow Leopard Trust, returns to the Biodiversity Teach-in to offer an update at 8 a.m. “Prairie Restoration and Soil Biodiversity" by Elizabeth Bach of The Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands at 9 a.m.; "Ecology and Evolution of Snakes and their Venoms" by herpetologist Neil Balchan at 10 a.m.; "Confiscation to Conservation: Returning Turtles to the American Landscape" by Jordan Gray of the Turtle Survival Alliance at 11 a.m.; "Amphibians and Global Change: What Do We Stand to Lose?" by Loyola University biology professor Joe Milanovich at noon; "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a Super Marine Mammal!" by herpetologist Deanna Leonard at 1 p.m. The final program for the day will be Hadley Copeland, an Elgin High School alumni, on "The Biology of Basking" at 2 p.m.

Feb. 9

Marine biologist Jillian Morris will present "Saving Sharks with Science: How and Why We Study Sharks" at 8 a.m. Autumn McGowan will talk about "Reefs in the Great Lakes" at 10 a.m. Bonnie Hamilton, an ecotoxicologist and National Geographic Explorer, will focus on "Plastics in the Poles" at 11 a.m., followed by "Using Plants for the Bioremediation of Soil" by Sonya Harris at noon. At 1 p.m., Cassandra Debets of Polar Bears International will talk about "Polar Bears in a Changing Arctic."

Feb. 16

Sonya Harris, founder of the Bullock Garden Project, will return at 8 a.m. to speak on "More than the Monarch: The Biodiversity Surrounding Milkweed," followed by Martha Parker of the International Rhino Foundation at 9 a.m. Lindsey Banks of Seacrest Wolf Preserve will focus on "The Wolf is KEY" at 10 a.m., followed by "Amazing Arctic Plants Above the Treeline" by York University biology professor Dawn Bazely at 11 a.m. Illinois Extension educator Peggy Anesi and naturalist Pam Otto will present "Wildlife Isn't Random" at noon, followed by "Captive Cetacean Welfare" by the Animal Welfare Institute’s Naomi Rose at 1 p.m. and "Protection of Predators" by Natalie Parra of the Oceanic Preservation Society at 2 p.m.

Feb. 23

The final week of the series will begin with "What Makes a Frog Rare?" with vertebrate biologist Owen Edwards at 9 a.m., followed by Frank Sladek of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Division, at 10 a.m. Nancy Lamia and Jean Muntz of Wild Ones will talk about "Native Plants: Changing the Nature of Our Impact" at 11 a.m. and Kat Gerdts of the Kane-DuPage Soil and Water Conservation District will present "When a Drop of Water Falls Here" at noon. Chris Benda, a botanist and past president of the Illinois Native Plant Society, will focus on native wildflowers at 1 p.m., followed by Becky Chaplin-Kramer, global biodiversity lead scientist with the World Wildlife Fund, answering "What Can Satellites Do for Biodiversity?" at 2 p.m.

Elgin Area School District U-46 serves families in 11 communities: Bartlett, Elgin, Hanover Park, South Elgin, Streamwood and Wayne, as well as portions of Carol Stream, Hoffman Estates, St. Charles, Schaumburg, and West Chicago. In total, the district encompasses 90 square miles within the Fox River Valley, approximately 45 minutes west of downtown Chicago, and includes communities within Cook, DuPage and Kane counties. More than 34,000 preschoolers through 12th-graders attend the 57 district schools and programs. To learn more, visit the U-46 website, or like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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