Nineteen students from 17 regional high schools participated in Clarion University Honors Program's Summer Academy 2011, "Geospatial Technologies and Our Water Resources," July 31 through Aug. 6.
Led by Dr. Yasser Ayad, professor of anthropology, geography and earth science, and Dr. Andrew Turner, professor of aquatic ecology, the academy trained students in the use of the tools of aquatic ecology and the emerging technology of geospatial mapping technology. Students assessed the chemical and biological integrity of local streams, using data collection and geographic information systems techniques to analyze their findings and present final results.
"They start out in the morning in classrooms with Dr. Ayad and Dr. Turner," said Dr. Hallie Savage, director of the Honors Program. "They introduce them to background material in water management and GIS. They're in the GIS lab, which has special mapping hardware and software, in a brand new science center. They leave and go out into pre-selected sites in the forest that Dr. Turner has identified."
"Among Clarion's strengths are where it's located and the environmental sciences," Savage said. "What we've done is try to expose students early on to an interdisciplinary mix, especially in environmental sciences."
Last year's academy focused on GIS, Ayad's research area, and this year's focus was on water management, in which Turner specializes, and integrated the application of GIS technology.
"I don't know that people in this area or region realize how strong Clarion University is in the environmental sciences and what fabulous research we have going on here," Savage said. "Summer academy allows students to be out in the field with their professors. It provides an opportunity for early entry into research. "
At the beginning of the week, the professors assigned research projects to groups of three students. Throughout the week they went into the field to collect data, then returned to campus to analyze the data and work on their research projects. The week concluded with the students presenting their findings.
Kelsey Slayton of Walled Lake Northern High School, Oakland County, Mich., who will attend Clarion University this fall, found it reinforced what she learned in the morning when she was able to apply it in the field in the afternoon.
"On Monday we went to Little Hefren passive water treatment system," Slayton said. "We mapped the pond and took samples, and checked the pH and alkalinity to see if the treatment system is still working. The water was looking good at the end of it."
Wednesday's excursion was to Cook Forest, where the group, in teams of two, paddled canoes down the Clarion River, with starting and ending coordinates provided by Turner. Along the way students took water samples and made observations for use in their projects.
For Jenna Morrow, analyzing water samples was nothing new. The 2011 Knoch High School graduate did independent research in high school in which she studied estrogen levels in water and how they affected the development of amphipods, and how it affects fish and other wildlife. Morrow's high school science teacher had previously introduced her to Turner, and she has decided to attend Clarion University this fall based on previous experiences.
At Cook Forest, Robert Gorog, who will be a senior this year at Freeport High School, was looking for manmade structures or any kind of interference with the natural banks of the river.
"The root mass keeps the bank together. People cut it down to make it look nice to us," Gorog said. "That interferes with the root structure, erodes the bank, clogs up fish nests and gills and keeps them from hatching. It will undercut the road, eventually."
"The expectation is high," Savage said. "It's a very challenging for the students, in one week, to produce a research project.
Summer Academy participants are academically talented students entering 11th or 12th grade, or their first year of college. The academy is designed to promote creativity and encourage an interest in higher education. The program began 10 years ago with a grant from Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Topics have included mock trials, debate and various sciences.
The 2011 Summer Academy was funded through an Educational Improvement Tax Credit donation from Pennsylvania General Energy Co. LLC, Warren.
• Deanna Badger, a senior at DuBois Area High School
• Natalie Bond, a 2011 graduate of Danville Area High School and incoming Clarion University freshman
• David Brooker, a 2011 graduate of Venango Catholic High School and incoming Clarion University freshman
• Kristen Burkholder, a 2011 graduate of Boiling Springs High School and incoming Clarion University freshman
• Paul Butler, a junior at Mt. Lebanon High School
• Madison Columbus, a senior at Ligonier Valley High School
• Emily Garbenis, a senior at Unionville High School
• Desiree Goldstrohm, a senior at Knoch High School
• Robert Gorog, a senior at Freeport Area School District
• Cassie Graham, a senior at Sharpsville Area High School
• Nick Hepfl, a senior at Keystone High School
• Abby Hileman, a senior at Clarion-Limestone High School
• Aly Hoy, a senior at Central Mountain High School
• Stephanie Latour, a 2011 graduate of Clarion Area High School
• Jenna Morrow, a 2011 graduate of Knoch High School and incoming Clarion University freshman
• Alex Nadas, a 2011 graduate of Mansfield Junior Senior High School and incoming Clarion University freshman
• Monica Oxenreiter, a senior at Mount Lebanon High School
• Katie Schaper, a senior at State College Area High School
• Kelsey Slayton, a 2011 graduate of Walled Lake Northern High School and incoming Clarion University freshman