Gift from Delta Environmental helps RIT establish environmental education program at Tait Preserve

The gift creates the Wayne Harris Delta Environmental Education Endowment Fund

Gabrielle Plucknette-DeVito

The newly established Wayne Harris Delta Environmental Education Endowment Fund will allow RIT to create an environmental education program at the Tait Preserve.

The citizen science nonprofit Delta Environmental is establishing a new endowment at Rochester Institute of Technology to create an environmental education program at the Tait Preserve of RIT.

Through the Wayne Harris Delta Environmental Education Endowment Fund, RIT will carry on Delta’s mission by incorporating environmental programming and curriculum, as well as forge new relationships with community partners in addition to maintaining partnerships established by Delta.

For nearly 50 years, Delta Environmental has promoted environmental awareness and provided water quality-focused environmental education within the local community. Founded by Wayne Harris in 1971 as Delta Laboratories, Delta has evolved from a noted environmental research and activism organization into the Adopt-A-Stream curriculum and water quality educational providers that have supported water quality education in the greater Rochester area for decades.

“My father saw in 1952 that fish were dying in Lake Ontario and wanted to know why,” said Karen Kessler, president of Delta Environmental. “He brought together a like-minded group of people to use science-based proof of the pollution source and extent in order to press for change in the laws to better protect our environment. Wayne believed the future depended upon educating the next generation while inspiring them to take action to protect our precious natural resources. This group of dedicated individuals formed Delta Laboratories Inc. to continue and expand this mission.”

In the 1980s, the organization developed a coordinated K-12 STEM curriculum, Kessler said, adding that the curriculum was years ahead of its time. Now the Adopt-A-Stream curriculum will be able to continue to help inspire and educate through RIT and the Tait Preserve.

RIT acquired the Tait Preserve of RIT and Leenhouts Lodge in 2019 with the goal of using the expansive 177-acre estate, which includes a 60-acre lake and a private mile of Irondequoit Creek adjacent to Ellison Park, for research, education, and outreach. Sophia Maggelakis, dean of the College of Science, is excited by the prospect of adapting the Adopt-A-Stream curriculum to the new setting in order to expand RIT’s K-12 educational programming.

“This endowment provides exciting new opportunities for collaboration with the Rochester City School District,” said Maggelakis. “Many of the existing programs for water quality education require the students to travel long distances. Having both the funding to do the programming and a space that’s close to the city is amazing, and we thank Delta Environmental for this tremendous gift.”

Now that the $200,000 endowment has been established, the Delta board of directors is proceeding with the dissolution of Delta Environmental during 2021. RIT will continue work on existing grants secured by Delta Environmental and hopes to build on the vast network of community partners Delta established over the years. RIT faculty are already working on ways to leverage the existing water quality education program to help educate the public about important findings from their research.

“One opportunity I’m excited to pursue right away will create synergy with our grant to study plastic pollution in local waterways,” said Christy Tyler, an aquatic ecologist and associate professor at RIT’s Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences. “Partnering with this new endowment to develop plastic pollution outreach and education materials is going to be a wonderful asset.”

RIT hopes to begin offering educational opportunities at the Tait Preserve through the new endowment as soon as the coronavirus pandemic is under control. For more information about Delta Environmental, visit the Adopt-a-Stream website.

The gift from the Tait family is part of Transforming RIT: The Campaign for Greatness, which is RIT’s $1 billion fundraising effort, the largest in university history. This blended campaign seeks support from a variety of investors, including alumni and friends, government and corporate partners, and research foundations and agencies. The campaign has raised $754 million to date.

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