SAFE Faculty Spotlight: Marta Toran

Marta Toran, Lecturer, Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences
Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund Recipient: Fall 2021

Project: “An Undergraduate Outreach Experience: Bilingual Environmental Science Enrichment Program for Elementary Students”

The College of Arts and Sciences Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) fund grant was instrumental in providing 21 students between 3rd and 5th grade hands-on materials for a science enrichment after-school club. The GeoDetectives Club was a pilot program at Parkway Elementary School that ran during Spring 2022. The goal for the club was to provide environmental science activities in both English and Spanish to engage Hispanic learners and their families. SAFE grant funds were used to purchase things like paper making kits, water quality probes and chemical tests, netting for aquatic insects, critter habitats, magnifying glasses, petri dishes, digital microscopes and gardening gloves. SAFE funds were also used to provide a participation stipend to a collaborating teacher at Parkway School, who helped with the after school club and communication with parents.

According to Toran, the SAFE grant provided an outreach experience for undergraduate students in three ways: engaging with the community through building a new partnership with a local elementary school, helping students develop their science communication and education skills, and providing undergraduates enrolled in the North Carolina Environmental Education training program opportunities for obtaining credit hours towards the certificate. Twenty undergraduate students of a variety of majors (environmental science, biology, psychology, elementary education, geology and Spanish) were directly involved in the GeoDetectives club by helping at the garden service day and/or facilitating a session at the club. Topics students presented on included: bats, birds, water quality, amphibians, recycling, gardening, composting, biodiversity, rocks and minerals. Two students were the main leads coordinating and facilitating all club sessions in both English and Spanish as well as communicating with the collaborating teacher. The partnership has already provided a series of opportunities for students to be involved in service projects (helping get gardens ready for outdoor lessons, labeling nature trails, making and setting up bird boxes) and will continue offering these, as many of the projects are on-going.

In addition to piloting a new concept for a community engagement project (bilingual afterschool science club) which was a big success and had a waiting list of 15 kids, Toran helped create a website for the club to keep families informed throughout the sessions and build a hub for lesson ideas for similar clubs. The website can be found here. The blog includes a summary and photos of each session, as well as the repository of ten lessons is intended to continue providing inspiration for others who want to recreate a similar bilingual science club in the future. Six bird boxes and professional signage was made for the nature trail so that students and the school and general public visiting can learn more about trees of the area.


About the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences
Located in Western North Carolina, Appalachian State University provides the perfect setting to study geological and environmental sciences. The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences provides students with a solid foundation on which to prepare for graduate school or build successful careers as scientists, consultants and secondary education teachers. The department offers six degree options in geology and two degree options in environmental science. Learn more at

About the SAFE Fund
Initially endowed by Hughlene and Bill Frank, the College of Arts and Sciences Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund provides resources that can be used to support undergraduate, graduate and faculty experiences. The SAFE Fund provides funding for college priorities and opportunities that arise throughout the year. These unrestricted funds support student and faculty travel, publication support for faculty and student research opportunities. Learn more at:

SAFE Faculty Spotlight: Marta Toran
Published: Nov 29, 2022 9:35am