Partners in Nature, Education: Acker Park Features New Story Walk

In honor of Women’s History Month 2021, GEM Environmental created and installed a story walk along Tom’s Trail in Acker Park to recognize the amazing achievements of five female minority STEM professionals.

The stories spotlight Mary G. Ross, Maryam Mirzakhani, Mamie Phipps Clark, Chien-Shiung Wu and Ellen Ochoa. Through the walk, you learn about their stories, the hardships they overcame, their vital contributions to STEM, and ways for visitors to get involved!

This project aligns with GEM’s mission to create avenues for the advancement of students in STEM programs to industry careers by providing educational opportunities for continued personal growth.

Madison Link, GEM’s program coordinator, says that to continue toward advancement, one must also look back at those who have come before, have broken boundaries, and have accomplished amazing achievements despite adversity.

Madison was inspired to create GEM’s Acker Park project by the existing story walk by Prescott Public Library at Granite Creek Park.

Granite Creek Park has a story walk designed to teach elementary school students reading comprehension skills. Created by the Prescott Public Library, community members are able to enjoy an educational space in nature. The story walk simultaneously provides parents with tips on how to support their children in learning, while also using elementary reading level language so children can practice their reading skills.

Madison decided a story walk would be an excellent way to showcase minority STEM professionals.

“Story walks are great for the community!” she says. “They help inspire people to be active outside and are a great way to learn along the way. It just makes sense that GEM would follow the Prescott Public Library’s lead as we are always looking to promote outdoor educational spaces.”

Working with Kelly Tolbert, Prescott Recreation Service’s recreation coordinator, it was decided a story walk aimed at the middle school reading level would be ideal. They worked to find a great location, evaluating spaces based on many variables, eventually deciding on Tom’s Trail in Acker Park.

The entire GEM team worked to create vivid biographies for these five amazing women. Madison researched and identified the information while Annie Warner, Abby Ruby and Brandon White helped edit the information into a story.

Warner, an AmeriCorps state member and GEM’s media expert, says: “This project is unique and meaningful because it addresses community issues in a sustainable way. By sharing the accomplishments of minority women in STEM with community members, we can inspire many generations to come.”

While writing the pieces was extremely important, so was constructing the plaques the stories rest upon. Eric Welsh, founder and executive director of GEM Environmental, along with his three children, fabricated the plaques from scratch. Using their welding skills, Eric and his sons created frames for the plaques and ingenious tops that allow the stories to be changed at a later date.

The team began the installation process March 31, the last day of Women’s History Month! The team met at 10 a.m. to dig holes for the posts, mix cement, and center the plaques just right. After three hours of hard work, the first parts of the plaques were installed.

Ruby said at the time: “I got to learn a lot about manual labor yesterday, which was awesome! Mixing and shoveling concrete, powering on an auger, and digging through clay isn’t how I thought I’d spend my Wednesday, but it was a great new way to make a difference in the community.”

Not only was it a good opportunity to learn about manual labor, but Warner also got to stretch her project planning and design skills.

“During this project, I learned more about the logistics behind planning for community learning,” she says. “I was able to gain a new perspective on the extensive work needed to complete a project like this including the graphic design elements, coordination with community partners, and physical installation components.”

GEM is constantly and consistently focused on creating positive impacts in community spaces, building skills through experiential activities for our members, and designing sustainable projects that empower community learning. The Acker Park Story Walk incorporates all of these elements.

To view the efforts in celebrating women in STEM via Tom’s Trail, access Acker Park via Summer Field.