Students brave cold to learn field methods over spring break

Madison Koenig |

Jen Bowman, a senior environmental project manager  at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, offered a class over spring break on methods and equipment used for gathering and assessing environmental data from the field. Her plan was to spend four hours outside every day. However, when Athens had a level 3 snow emergency , she had to adapt.

“If the weather would have been on our side, the class would have went beautifully, because you have a full day—you can go inside, you can go outside, you can do a field trip,” Bowman said. “If the weather’s bad, it makes it really difficult. And not just a little bit bad—I mean when you get snow dumped on you and ice in the creek, it’s challenging.”

Each day the class covered several tools and skills that the students would need to do research in the field, such as creating a sampling plan, mapping sampling sites, and taking good field notes, as well as gathering samples in the field and testing them in the lab.

 Despite the challenge posed by the weather, students who participated in the class still learned a great deal. “Looking back on it now, I’m pretty floored by how much I actually learned in this class,” said Alina Raulinaitis, a first-year student in the environmental studies program.

Bowman made sure of that by diverting some of the time originally planned for fieldwork to indoor lectures, drawing on the expertise of Voinovich School professors and the professionals who remained in town for spring break.

“There’s also a large component of the class that talks about the process that you go through when you are establishing a sampling plan or any type of strategy for how you want to answer your environmental questions,” Bowman said.

The school’s long experience in watershed issues also helped. Originally the class had planned to visit Hewett Fork in the Raccoon Creek watershed, but students were able to use samples gathered by the Raccoon Creek Partnership to practice using HACH digital titrators and spectrophotometers, both of which are important tools for monitoring water quality.

The first days of the week class stuck close to the Ridges because of the cold and rain. They visited the air quality station, a part of the Center for Air Quality,  at the Ridges on Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday they visited a creek on the Ridges to measure water flow and take field parameters.

“Since the creek was flooded, it had all of these leaves and debris floating downstream and they’d get caught up in the meter,” Raulinaitis said. “But it really illustrated the real-life challenge you would have if you were doing this in an actual setting, if you were really going out there and doing water tests. You can’t always bank on the conditions being perfect.”

The University closed on Thursday, and students still had to trek through nearly a foot of snow on Friday when it reopened. To make up for the lost time, especially the lost time in the field, Bowman said that the class will meet again in April.

Bowman said that although the students are not experts in these methods and equipment after one class, the week gave students a foundation for improving their skills.

 “They learned the fundamentals of basic environmental equipment that you would use to do this type of work,” said Bowman. “That’s part of going to graduate school: You learn to know where to find the resources you need, knowing that equipment is there and where to find the methods needed.”

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