Both Australia and the United States face similar environmental issues, especially when it comes to water. In an effort to improve the dialogue, Professor Judy O’Neil of the University of Maryland Horn Point Laboratory and Australian Minister for School Education Peter Garrett co-created US-Australia Virtual Water Partnership in March 2013. Known as US/AUS-H2O, this pilot program came about through the Global Connections and Exchange program, a State Department Initiative.
US/AUS-H2O’s goals include increased awareness of water issues in both nations, as well as to promote cultural exchanges between the US and Australia. The exchange involves 16 high school teams, eight from the US and eight from Australia. In addition to student exchanges, the 16 teachers each attended trainings prior to the US/AUS-H2O program’s start date this year. Each of Australia’s six states and two of its territories (Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory) are partnered with high schools from Oregon, California, Indiana, Louisiana, Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, and Maine, based on similar topography and climate. Each high school pair needs to answer the question “How sustainable is your water cycle?” using a series of modules and resources made available on the online website.
In addition to creating virtual information exchanges about water issues, the US/AUS-H2O program was designed to jumpstart a new generation of students to pursue careers in the sciences. By using a virtual platform as a means of exchange, programs like the US/AUS-H2O may inspire new environmental educational exchanges between the US and other nations in the Asia Pacific region. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in Maine, and Charles Darwin University in Australia are the institutions collaborating on the program.
Nina Geller is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.