What’s in Our Waters (WOW) program was designed by graduate students in the Biology and Environmental Toxicology programs at Clemson University (CU) in June 2013. The goal of the program was to introduce high school students (in and around Clemson, South Carolina) to methods of monitoring and reporting on the conditions of local streams. We started working with environmental clubs (from neighboring high schools) and taking them to field trips for water quality monitoring. Over the next few months our vision progressed towards teaching students the importance of responsible citizen science, conducting research using the ‘scientific method’ and the relevance of science communication with the public .
We wanted to incorporate this whole process under the WOW program. We were able to launch a model for this program with the AP Environmental Science class of Daniel High School (Central, SC). This past academic year, Daniel High School students designed and conducted both chemical and biological water quality tests at Indian Creek, located in CU’s North Experimental Forest. Students measured physical attributes of the creek including dissolved oxygen, acidity, alkalinity, conductivity, temperature, and turbidity. Moreover, students also collected faunal specimens (i.e. aquatic macroinvertebrates), which serve as biological indicators of water quality.
The WOW program model is divided into four phases:
1.) In class presentation to students by WOW mentors: they talk about citizen science, other water quality programs, careers in environmental sciences, building a research hypothesis, conducting research, data analysis and research communication.
2.) Field trip: students are assisted by mentors at the field trip to the Indian Creek, in observing macroinvertebrates and measuring water quality using chemical testing kits.
3.) In class mentoring to prepare scientific posters: mentors work in groups with students to help them analyze data collected from the field trip and summarizes and presents that in the form of a poster.
4.) Participate in a poster presentation session at a biology symposium in Clemson University.
This program is valuable for several reasons: it introduces budding scientists to field techniques, serves as a platform for students to practice the scientific method, and most importantly, increases public awareness of the threats to the health of our freshwater ecosystems.
My “wow” moment from this program was when my mentees (while presenting the poster) said with confidence that , “The WOW collaboration between DHS and Clemson University should be a model which other high schools and graduate schools in SC and other states should replicate.”
WOW is not a funded or registered program, nor is it a part of an NSF or bigger outreach initiative. What I loved about this whole process was all of us (all the mentors) had a selfless involvement with this project. We did this out of our passion and to see the relevance of our passion outside our own research labs. Unfortunately a lot of high school students are deprived of real-life-mentors. I think it does make a difference when they get to talk to a mentor (outside school/classroom) and learn about the possibilities of environmental sciences, research and understand the common goal of seeing the bigger picture.
Namrata Sengupta is a graduate student in Environmental Toxicology at Clemson University.
Current partners: Pickens County 4H Club, Anderson and Pickens Counties Stormwater Partners, D.W. Daniel High School and Clemson University
Facebook: Clemson WOW Project: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1613862448838923/
Twitter: Follow #ClemsonWOW for more updates
Current and past North America and Carolina SETAC student members involved as WOW mentors (June 2013 to June 2015):
Cofounders: Austin Wray, Kim Newton, Lauren Sweet and Namrata Sengupta
Mentors: Anna Lee McLeod, Erica Linard, Katherine Johnson, Maria Rodgers, Ramiya Kumar and Sarah Au
For more information on our model and if you would like to adopt it for your own campus then please email: Namrata Sengupta firstname.lastname@example.org