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Pieces of Eight


'ROVER' Van Educational

By Erica Plouffe Lazure

Children across the region are learning the ins and outs of weather sciences - everything from climate change and hurricane awareness to water quality, thanks to a new high-tech van at ECU, dubbed the RENCI ROVER.

Filled with laptops, GIS software, and its own weather and radio stations, the ROVER (RENCI Outreach Vehicle for Education and Research) is the key element of the outreach component of ECU’s Renaissance Computing Institute/Center for Coastal Systems Informatics and Modeling. It’s also slated to play a role in emergency situations, providing mobile, free-standing power and communication capabilities.

Michelle Covi, RENCI@ECU’s new outreach coordinator and science education specialist, already has dozens of school and community programs lined up. Topics include hurricane awareness, weather and climate change, coastal habitat preservation and water quality.

“With the ROVER, we can bring a field trip into the classroom,” Covi said. “We go outside to the ROVER to observe and measure the current weather or water quality and investigate hurricanes in a simulated emergency scenario. Students can make real-life connections to science and technology.”

The van’s most recent appearance was at RENCI@ECU’s Open House Oct. 2, an event that showcased research being conducted at the facility. RENCI/CSIM is part of a $1.7 million grant from the Chapel Hill-based Renaissance Computing Institute. Its mission is to support research and outreach that improves understanding of how geographic features, biological coastal processes, and human activity interact and affect the environment, economy and social systems of North Carolina’s coastal region.

In addition to educational components, the Rover’s free-standing server, generator, and radio would be useful during an emergency. The radio is operated by Paul Fletcher, a Brody School of Medicine professor and amateur radio operator with years of emergency response radio experience. It has broadcasting and receiving capabilities.

Donna Kain, RENCI@ECU’s Outreach Director and professor of English, has made connections with emergency managers across eastern North Carolina. Plans are under way to make the ROVER a part of the network of emergency response vehicles in the event of a catastrophe. For more information, visit or contact Michelle Covi at 252-737-1773.

This page originally appeared in the Oct. 3, 2008 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at