Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

Coralville Rainforest Official Touts Education Value of Project

Sam Edsill

The Daily Iowan

April 21, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by The Daily Iowan, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Daily Iowan.]

Ted Stilwill, director of learning for the Environmental Project, said Wednesday that the proposed indoor rain forest in Coralville will fill a growing need for improved science literacy.

Stilwill, who spoke at the UI's Third Annual Science Education Symposium, said the educational benefits of the project, including teacher training and direct student access to the subjects they are studying, will help strengthen science teaching in the state, which is necessary in order to compete in a global economy.

"There's a critical need today for young people who know about things and learn about things in a way that science gives you," he said.

A former director of the Iowa Department of Education, he said the project would teach visiting students about the animals and plants within the center's diverse ecosystems, which will include a prairie, wetlands, and a rain forest, as well as allow them to monitor the chemical conditions within environments.

The Environmental Project would also provide science-education training to current and future teachers. Stilwill compared the relationship of the Environmental Project and the UI College of Education with the current relationship between the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the Carver College of Medicine.

UI education students would receive training, as well as work experience, at the facilities, he said. The project will have a full-time staff of 290 employees, most of whom will be teachers.

He believes the project will eventually make enough money to support the educational programs, he said, noting that the facility will open in three to four years. He also said the complex could house its own school in the future.

The Environmental Project will contain a virtual-reality programming center that will simulate a wide range of environments, from the human circulatory system to the surface of the sun.

Nancy Quellhorst, the project's director of operations in Coralville, said directors are applying for a $20 million grant from the Vision Iowa fund. Organizers have raised $87 million for the project, largely through the federal Department of Energy and the city of Coralville. The total cost for the project is $180 million, and groundbreaking is slated for late this year, she said.

The Vision Iowa grant would be a catalyst for private and corporate donations, she said.

"It would be a huge vote of confidence - a stamp of approval from the state," she said.