Ashland University Students Testing the Waters

Ashland University Students Testing the Waters
Ashland University students Shelby Reutter, Alexis Lough, Maria Kern and Natalie Kracker (pictured left to right) pose at the Black Fork Wetlands, the site for water testing.

4/11/18 ASHLAND, Ohio – Ashland University students and faculty are involved in Ashland University’s Water Quality (AUWQua) Monitoring Program where student-led field teams collect water from pre-determined sampling sites for testing. The students involved in the research with faculty member Dr. Jenna Dolhi, visiting assistant professor of Biology, are senior Natalie Kracker, senior Elizabeth Takacs, junior Alexis Lough, junior Alexis Flagg, sophomore Maria Kern and sophomore Shelby Reutter.

A majority of the students joined the AUWQua Monitoring Program after hearing a research presentation by Dr. Dolhi, along with other professors from the Biology and Toxicology Department and Chemistry, Geology, and Physics Department who talked about the monitoring project.

Dolhi said, “The idea for the project came when I started at AU as a faculty member in Fall 2016. I have interests in water quality, especially nutrient pollution, and fortunately, AU already had active research and education programs established at the Black Fork Wetlands Preserve. During this time the Provost also offered an Innovation Grant to fund innovative and creative education projects. So all the pieces came together to allow us to build off past successes at the Wetlands Preserve and to acquire new equipment to get this exciting project off the ground.”

The Black Fork of the Mohican River and the Black Fork Wetlands have been receiving a monthly “check-ups” since July 2017 from the AUWQua Monitoring Program. The student-led field teams collect water from pre-determined sampling sites for nutrient analysis in the lab and use a multiprobe to measure water temperature, pH, salinity, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen. This month marks the first check-up in 2018, as water quality data continues to be collected, analyzed, and used to shape our understanding of local water health.  

According to Dolhi, these measurements are important in determining the current health of the water and enhance our understanding of the organisms that can live there. This type of project is especially informative in agricultural areas, as nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, which can contribute to algal blooms, are tracked. Large quantities of algae have caused concern in other nearby aquatic systems. In recent years, harmful algal blooms (HABs), caused by toxin-producing algae, have occurred in Lake Erie, Buckeye Lake, and even the Ohio River. Armed with the baseline data being collected by the AUWQua Monitoring Program, we can begin to coordinate efforts to maintain or improve best practices to protect our water quality.

The students are very passionate about their involvement in the club and as Alexis Lough, member of the club, said, “I know others, as well as myself, are excited and hope to be able to incorporate others into taking samples, whether it be K-12 students or interested citizens in the community. It would also be major step in the right direction even to get a non-student interested so we can help provide knowledge of local water quality and environmental factors to local residents, as well as to the scientific community.”

Maria Kern said, “I joined this research lab to gain more experience in different labs and in field work. It also seemed like a great opportunity to learn more and have experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise. I think my favorite part of joining this research lab is having so many new and interesting experiences that I wouldn't have gotten without participating in research.”

Natalie Kracker said, “It sounded like a great learning opportunity and I liked the idea of being able to work outdoors, researching things that can directly impact our community.  After I graduate, I would like to work in the fields of microbiology or ecology and the work that I'm doing with the AUWQua program gives me experience in both.”

Alexis Lough said, “I also use these water samples for research analyzing the relationship between microplastic particles and zooplankton, so not only does this “club” allow us to monitor environmental variables and track changes throughout the months, it allows undergraduates such as myself and Natalie to use fresh water samples in our research at AU.”

Shelby Reutter said, “I thought this was an extremely interesting water quality project and would provide some valuable field experience to me. Most of my experience with this project is through fieldwork - collecting the water samples and other readings, but recently I did see how many of the tests are performed in the laboratory, and I find both aspects of the project really engaging and fascinating.”

For more information about Ashland University's Water Quality Monitoring Program, go to: https://www.auwqua.com/

Ashland University, ranked in the top tier of colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2018, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) deeply values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###