Stark News Details
Our Water Webs: Our Region's Water Lifeline - Part 2Posted Jan. 7, 2011
About Our Water Webs: Our Region's Water Lifeline
Mariana Silva is a senior magazine journalism major at Kent State University at Stark. These articles were featured on the CoolCleveland.com blog.
Part 2: Watersheds 101: Students Investigate What Lies Beneath
Northeast Ohio students, professors and communities are connecting to their environment in different ways. They write papers, give presentations, conduct field and community work, and try to improve the space we share.
At the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, host of a water summit and the H2O exhibit which showed the importance of water on the planet, students and professors came together to present the results of three years of using science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the field and in their classrooms.
Igniting Streams of Learning in Science Summit 2010 involved Hiram College, Kent State University, The University of Akron, other universities affiliated with the Northeast Ohio Choose Ohio First program, and more than 20 Northeast Ohio school districts.
At the conference students and professors presented their success stories and showed how it is possible to relate theory, practice and community work in projects that normally would be confined to web research and classroom work.
The universities and schools participating in the three-year ISLS project, which focused on local watershed issues, along with its students, teachers and professors, are changing how students connect to the environment, which sometimes means changing how they look at the sciences.
Dennis Taylor, biology professor at Hiram College and one of the co-directors of ISLS, has traveled around the globe several times, often with students. He has shown high school and college students how science can be fun and easy, which, according to him, is hardly ever how students describe the subject.
Another initiative of the group is to capture in film how students in Northeast Ohio are interacting with their environment. At the conference, filmmaker and journalism professor David Smeltzer, along with his crew, presented two documentaries filmed in Northeast Ohio, that illustrate just that: student and community involvement.
“Real Science, Real Learning,” shot between 2007 and 2009, tells the story of high school students and how they got involved with environmental projects in their communities. The film captured how through projects established within their schools, students connected to the environmental problems in their communities and are not only talking about what they see but proposing solutions.
Smeltzer is also filming “Watersheds, Water Webs: Why Should you Care,” a more specific documentary showing how Stark County residents interact with their local watershed, the Nimishillen Creek. The documentary, possible through the partnership between the Hoover Foundation and Kent State at Stark, is expected for Summer 2011.
The documentary shows the connections and interdependence among Stark County residents, watershed groups, businesses, agriculture and the Nimishillen Creek watershed. One of the chapters of the movie will show the field and laboratory work of Robert Hamilton, a biology professor at Kent State at Stark.
The idea of the movie is to make the Nimishillen Creek watershed and its area more visible by showing the web of waterways that make up the local Nimishillen Creek area and how they ultimately flow into the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Among other disciplines at Kent State at Stark, arts, biology, journalism, music, sociology and geography came together to spread the word about local environmental issues. Some professors have already started to introduce water issues to their syllabi through class discussions, papers, activities and field work.
Jacquelyn Zevenbergen was watershed coordinator at Duck Creek watershed before she became a professor at Kent State at Stark, where she teaches biology lecture and laboratory classes for non-majors.
“The idea is to get the students interested and help them realize that this isn’t some biology thing, this is a civic duty type of thing, and every person plays a role in the health of the watershed,” Zevenbergen said.
Students in her class can get involved with watershed issues on many levels, which include preparing presentations, discussions, papers and going to local watershed meetings. They can also locate watersheds in the region and suggest solutions for the problems they come across.
“I feel this is very important because you can have all science in the world behind what you are doing but if the general public isn’t supportive of it, you are not going to get anywhere,” Zevenbergen said. “I feel it is very important for this to be part of the education of college students, whether they are a science major or not, because they are the ones who are going to be out there, in business positions, political positions, making decisions about the watershed.”
Sciences classes are not the only ones attracting students and building awareness around water issues at colleges and universities.
Since 2008, art professor Jack McWhorter has participated in projects that link environmental issues and art and has introduced a new tool into his studio: a microscope.
“There is a science behind the project, but it is also about image making and art making,” Whorther said. “There are processes of thinking and working that force the student to look at representation and look at actual, real things…and try to determine what can [they] pull from it, how much information [they] can take from it, to make it art, which is a real unique challenge.”
Professor and students have gone beyond the university’s grounds and constructed a panel for the Navarre YMCA. With the support of the initiative and an Arts in Stark grant, they are now working on another collaborative project that puts together the paintings of all the students in the class into a mural.
Cheri Fisher, a student in Whorter’s class, has painted two panels for the project. She got the idea for one of her paintings from an organism she observed through the microscope. Like all students in the class, she collected her own water sample. Hers came from the Kent Stark’s pond.
“There is art on everything,” Fisher said. “You look at one little microorganism and you just start thinking: ‘OK that is how they curve’ and you see the shading and I just automatically pull art from everything.”
Although translating what they see in the microscope into canvas may be a challenge, the professor said he believes thinking of biology and arts at the same time was easy for his students, who enjoy connecting the two subjects.
“The fact that these microscopes are not ours, they are from the biology department and they are willing to give us what we need, they are willing to meet with us and meet with the class to give us more information,” said Whorter, referring to the other people involved with the initiative. “So there is real science behind the artfulness.”