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Alumnus is up to something fishy

  • Jeff Bouwman, '03, incorporates fish research into his middle school science classes through a DNR program.
  • Jeff Bouwman, '03, teaches science at Shumate Middle School in Gibraltar.

Posted on March 14, 2017

Throughout his career as a science teacher, Jeff Bouwman, '03, has continuously looked for ways to involve his students in science. After going through textbooks, lectures and projects, he decided to try something different — he brought a sturgeon into the classroom.

“The best way for students to learn is by doing the science,” said Bouwman, who majored in geology. “The more opportunities we provide in the classroom, the more excited they will be to learn.”

Shumate Middle School in Gibraltar, Michigan, where Bouwman teaches, is one of eight schools selected to participate in the “Sturgeon in the Classroom” program. The program is offered through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division to increase awareness and appreciation of the threatened lake sturgeon. 

After a three-year wait, Bouwman’s class was approved to participate in the program. The class was able to work with a six-inch sturgeon. Every day, two or three students would track specific data about the sturgeon and send it back to the DNR. 

“Having a threatened species in the class changes everyone’s perspective,” Bouwman said. “We get to learn about the sturgeon, but we also raise awareness about endangered species in general.”

Students participate in research and data tracking in the program. Representatives from Sturgeons of Tomorrow, an organization associated with the program, visit the classroom and help facilitate the process. 

While raising a threatened species is a new experience for Bouwman, fish have become a regular aspect of his classroom.

“Students love getting these unique opportunities at school,” he said. “They know that when you get to Mr. Bouwman’s room, you’re going to be raising fish.”

Bouwman’s classroom has also participated in the Michigan DNR “Salmon in the Classroom” program for eight years. Through this program, students help raise salmon from eggs until they are fully grown. 

Over the last eight years, Bouwman’s students have released more than 700 salmon in the Huron River. For Bouwman, the more important number is the 250 students who were able to participate in real-world science. 

“We are making a real-world impact. Students get to see the importance of monitoring the tanks and creating a nice ecosystem; they get real responsibilities,” he said. “This is all part of what the DNR does, it is all real, actual science.”

Providing students with science opportunities is important for Bouwman. While textbooks and lessons can be helpful, Bouwman said he wants students to see that there are plenty of opportunities for science work.

One of those opportunities is getting the first WeatherSTEM system in Michigan. The system, which was obtained after Bouwman wrote a grant, tracks temperature, wind speed and other weather data. 

Bouwman said the WeatherSTEM is the “coolest tool” he has ever worked with. The system can provide continuous weather updates to the community and show students interactive data they can learn from. 

“Everything we do is about helping the students learn more,” Bouwman said. “I love that we can give them these opportunities where they get to learn by doing science.”

Visit the Sturgeon in the Classroom and Salmon in the Classroom websites to learn more. Follow updates from the WeatherSTEM system at

-by Lucas Escalada