Students get feet wet adopting streams during winter break

Students get feet wet adopting streams during winter break

Regan Kitchens at Champion Creek in Milledgeville.
Regan Kitchens at Champion Creek in Milledgeville.
S ome Georgia College students will be doing a lot of streaming on winter break—but not the kind you do on Netflix.

Home for the holidays, they’re not idle. Fifty students from all majors have turned ‘citizen scientist’ to monitor waterways in 26 counties across Georgia. They’ll make visual assessments, analyze chemical markers and log information to the state’s Adopt-A-Stream database.

“This is truly a unique, cooperative and co-curricular experience that only a place like Georgia College could provide,” said Dr. Jordan Cofer, associate provost of Transformative Learning Experiences.

“Our students are extremely interested in service and sustainability,” he said, “so this project really appealed to them. They’re able to help give back to their communities, while learning more about their local environments.”

This new program allows students to be actively engaged outside during an unusually long winter break. It also satisfies one of five transformative experiences they need in the GC Journeys program, in order to graduate.

Students tested their knowledge of streams at Champion Creek at Lake Laurel.
Students tested their knowledge of streams at Champion Creek at Lake Laurel.

This is truly a unique, cooperative and co-curricular experience that only a place like Georgia College could provide.
– Dr. Jordan Cofer
Before leaving campus for the semester, students began learning and preparing. Some are environmental science and chemistry majors. But a majority are not. Majors from areas like business, psychology, nursing, computer science, health sciences and communications are learning to visually assess and chemically test streams.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to promote the efforts of Adopt-a-Stream and get our students excited about water quality. The best part is that their small efforts can have a big impact,” said Ruth Eilers, director of Academic Outreach and regional coordinator for Georgia Adopt-A-Stream.

So many students were interested in this alternative winter break activity that additional training sessions were offered. In November, students took workshops with Eilers, lasting anywhere from three hours to half a day. Some students learned to observe subtle changes in streams by examining the physical appearance and structure of streams and how they change over time. This tells a lot about the health of a stream and the quality of habitats for small organisms.

It’s really valuable for these students to show they’re engaged in these citizen-science efforts. They were willing to get substantial training and follow through with it. These are all skills that’ll benefit them when they look for jobs after graduation.
– Dr. Allison VandeVoort
Half the students were trained in chemical monitoring. They learned to test dissolved oxygen, pH acidity, electrical conductivity and temperature.

“It’s really valuable for these students to show they’re engaged in these citizen-science efforts,” said Dr. Allison VandeVoort, associate professor of environmental science. “They were willing to get substantial training and follow through with it. These are all skills that’ll benefit them when they look for jobs after graduation.”

“I’m encouraged so many of them care about their environment,” she said. “They care about sustainability, and they’re excited to engage in this cool citizen-science effort.”

Students tested their newfound knowledge in Champion Creek at Lake Laurel in November and are now state certified in the Adopt-A-Stream program. They’ll continue to participate in online discussion boards and web meetings to talk about what they’ve learned and the challenges they’re facing. There’ll also be online guest speakers to teach students more about water quality issues, community engagement and sustainability.

This will be a snapshot, if you will, of what water quality looks like across Georgia at this moment.
– Dr. Vandevoort
Junior psychology major Mara Lami volunteered to observe and chemically test a stream directly behind her house in Fortson, Georgia, called Standing Boy Creek. It’s a fascinating area surrounded by overgrown forest and swampland. She also hopes to monitor Mulberry Creek, a popular spot in her community for fishing.

Lami is using a form for visual notes that includes weather observation and the color, clarity and odor of water. She’ll calculate the stream’s flow as a chemical tester, as well, filling out a form for air and water temperature, pH levels and amounts of dissolved oxygen.

“The most challenging part, so far, has been the weather,” Lami said. “Rain keeps popping up on days, when I can actually go to the streams.”

“Getting to test the streams on my own is going to be fun. Mixing chemicals to learn new information about streams is exciting. I really look forward to getting into the streams with my rain boots on and testing the water.”

Junior Molly Hooks at Tybee Island.
Junior Molly Hooks at Tybee Island.
Junior environmental science major Molly Hooks is minoring in geology and biology. She’s glad to use her education to “contribute important findings and data” to the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream database.

Hooks already conducted tests at two coastal sites. While vacationing at Tybee Island, she tested waters only accessible by boat like Jack’s Cut, Little Tybee Slough and Buck Hammock. She also plans to test waters in her hometown of Augusta during break.

“Interpreting data, while in the field, is definitely challenging,” Hooks said. “But it’s also fun, because you get to spend time outside, while also conducting important research.”

Sydney Brown of Canton, Georgia, just graduated in December with degrees in biology and psychology. She enjoys freshwater conservation and is excited to make “an important contribution to a large body of science,” like Adopt-A-Stream.

Brown expects to do chemical testing at Fishing Creek near her home in Milledgeville. It runs  into the Oconee River and is a popular fishing spot.

I think it’ll be really fun to have a mini field-work experience and contribute to citizen science, which is a super-cool concept. I will always jump at an opportunity to work with water.
– Sydney Brown, recent graduate

Students report their findings online at the Adopt-A-Stream database. In January, they’ll provide Milledgeville representatives with a report on local waters. If any streams prove to be problematic, information from students could prompt action from politicians and environmental professionals.

 “This will be a snapshot, if you will, of what water quality looks like across Georgia at this moment,” VandeVoort said. “I think it’s really important for students from all majors to be able to engage with their environment, and I’m encouraged so many of them care about sustainability.”

Students at Champion Creek.
Students at Champion Creek.