Grant aims to educate students through hands-on work in local environment

By Eric Povish
September 25, 2008

Next fall, Cabrini students looking to fulfill their science credit will have one more option to choose from.

Thanks to Dr. David Dunbar of the biology department, Dr. Melissa Terlecki of the psychology department and their team, Cabrini College was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for the amount of $92,007 to go towards their work with their project, “Collaborative Research Watershed Citizenship Learning Community.”

A watershed is the area of land, usually hills and surrounding a stream or river, where a drop of water would have to travel through to get to the stream. ?That means that whatever is in that soil, chemical or not, has the potential to contaminate the water. “You could look at small watersheds. There are even watersheds inside of watersheds,” Dunbar said.

The courses, Watershed Ecology and Watershed Citizenship, will be using the money to help develop the course, as well as providing supplies and equipment for the students. Together, these two classes will make up the “learning community.”

They will be joining forces with the Stroud Water Research Center, who, along with Dunbar, Terlecki and Dr. Caroline Nielsen of the biology department, will be teaching the two new courses. ?

The money from the grant will also “contribute to our use of their facilities,” Nielsen said.

The project is working to help with Crabby Creek Stream Monitoring Project in Valley Forge, Pa.

“Crabby Creek is a tributary of Valley Creek which has a lot of historical significance. It’s where George Washington and his troops stayed during the Revolutionary War,” Dunbar said.

To help determine what exactly is going on in the creek, they will examine the stream water quality.

“If you have good stream water quality, that suggests that all those things are going well. If you have bad stream water quality, that suggests that something is going wrong and then you will have to figure out what it is,” Nielson said.

To get a better sense of what is going on, they will need to gather some long-term data. To accomplish this, they will examine the macroinvertebrates or bugs, that are found in the water.

By examining the different kinds of macroinvertebrates that live in the stream, it will give them a very good idea of what is going on in the ecosystem and how good or bad the water quality level is.

Once they find out what organisms they have, Dunbar will implement his innovative DNA bar-coding technique, which he explains is a “molecular genetics technique that is used to identify an organism to the species level.”

Along with their goal of bettering the Crabby Creek watershed, Dunbar also hopes that his students will grow and learn a lot from their experiences working in the watershed classes.

“One of the things we want the students to become is citizen scientists, which is to try and empower the typical student or citizen to monitor their own streams and to be advocates for their local environments,” Dunbar said.

Eric Povish

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