Delta Environmental establishes RIT endowment

Messenger Post Media
Monroe County Post

Delta Environmental is establishing an endowment at Rochester Institute of Technology to create an environmental education program at the Tait Preserve.

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

Delta Environmental has promoted environmental awareness and environmental education focused on water quality within the local community for nearly 50 years. Founded by Wayne Harris in 1971 as Delta Laboratories, Delta evolved from an environmental research and activism organization into the Adopt-A-Stream curriculum and water quality educational providers that has supported water quality education in Greater Rochester 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.”

The organization developed a coordinated K-12 STEM curriculum in the 1980s, Kessler said. 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 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, said she 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,” Maggelakis said. “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 network of community partners Delta established over the years. RIT faculty are working on ways to leverage the existing water quality education program to help educate the public about 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 start offering educational opportunities at the Tait Preserve through the new endowment as soon as the coronavirus pandemic is under control.

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