Field Interpreter FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions 

George Mason University Potomac Environmental Research & Education Center’s MWEE Field Interpreter Program

What is a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience? (MWEE)?

MWEE is and investigative or experimental project that gets students thinking critically about the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. The field investigation that Field Interpreters will be delivering is part of an extensive unit on watersheds.

Why are these MWEEs so important?

In 2000, the Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed by the states of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, establishing the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem. One goal under this agreement is for every school student in the watershed to have a meaningful Bay or stream outdoor experience for before graduation from high school.

On May 12, 2009, an executive order that recognizes the Bay as a national treasure was issued by the President of the United States, which calls on the federal government to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay. In Dec. 2010, the Bay TMDL or ‘pollution diet’ was established. Surrounding jurisdictions submitted plans to the EPA explaining how pollution, primarily from stormwater, in their jurisdiction will be reduced. Our students of today will be inheriting the goals and results these current state and federal actions. It is our duty to provide them with the knowledge regarding the health of their aquatic ecosystems and help them measure this and other watershed characteristics so they can think critically about this important issue.

When is the field season?

Our Prince William county program begins in mid-March through May. Our Fairfax County Program begins in April and field days continue through May. A mandatory training day will be scheduled in late February.

What are the hours?

Weekdays from 8:30 am-1:30 pm. Field days are five hours long, which includes all set up, breakdown, and storage of equipment.

How many days can I work?

We try to schedule everyone to teach on the days they request. Once you have submitted an application to the Prince William and/or the Fairfax County programs, and have been accepted, you can fill out the availability form highlighting the days you prefer to work.
View the PWCS Spring schedule
View the FCPS Spring schedule

What is a typical field day like?

Interpreters all arrive at the park at 8:30 am and work together setting up all the equipment at each station. Depending on the site, equipment could be foldable tables, microscopes, magna-viewers, water chemistry kits and probeware, macroinvertebrate identification cards, maps, etc… Signs may be placed at each station to make rotations easier for chaperones and students. Once the stations are equipped, interpreters reconvene and wait for the bus loads of students to arrive. At some of the Fairfax parks, lead teachers will bring additional equipment that interpreters will carry to the stations.

Can I work in both the Prince William and the Fairfax County MWEE programs?

Yes. As each program is funded by a different grant, you will need to be enrolled in both programs, fill out separate time sheets and submit hours separately for each project.

Do the middle school students we will be teaching have a lot of background knowledge? I’m worried they might be smarter than me.

It depends on the timing of their program. Some classes come out on the Field Investigation before they have covered the Watersheds unit at school and other classes come very well prepared. Your job is to engage them regardless of background.

I’m not very confident in my ability to identify macroinvertebrates; can I still participate? 

Yes, this is only one of the stations that is taught, so you will be able to teach another station that you are more comfortable with; in addition, we will hold a training session to help improve your skills. In the meantime, you can practice your virtual stream sampling Cacapon Institute’s Benthic Macroinvertebrate Portal. View common species found in Fairfax County streams and general identification characteristics.

Where can I find information to build up my watershed content knowledge?

View the lessons and background information for MWEEs delivered to Prince William County 6th grade students on our teacher resource website. Also view MWEE Lessons and background information for Fairfax County’s 7th grade Life Science students.

Can I get internship credit through George Mason University?

Yes. You must sign up with your appropriate department and make sure the number of hours worked fulfills your department’s requirement.

Can I get volunteer hours for Master Gardener or Master Naturalist programs?

Yes! Make sure you let your volunteer coordinator know what the program entails to make sure it fulfills your requirements.

How do I get signed up to work as an interpreter at George Mason?

First fill out an application located here for Prince William county programs and here for Fairfax County Programs. After submitting the application, please send an email to Joy Greene ( and Cindy Smith (

Do we work in the rain or when it’s really mind-chillingly cold?

Yes! The rain provides a great introduction for how pollutants wash off the land and flow into the streams. We only cancel when the school system deems it unsafe for students to learn outdoors (i.e. thunderstorms, lightening, tornadoes etc…). You’ll be amazed at how many aquatic organisms thrive in the cold water.

In which parks do we deliver MWEE programs?

Manassas National Battlefield Park, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Colvin Run in Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Accotink Creek below Accotink Lake in Springfield, and Burke Lake Park.

Are you looking to expand your MWEE program to other school districts?

Absolutely! We are always looking for donors or grants to help fund these engaging programs.

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