Ken Gibbons, '13, is a biology major at Albion College, but he received his first research and outreach opportunities with geology professor Tim Lincoln during the 2010-11 academic year and the summer Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity program.
Gibbons and fellow biology major Heather Norbert, '12, joined geology major Abby Williams, '12, Whitehouse Nature Center director David Green, and Lincoln as the Michigan Colleges Foundation (MCF) launched a conservation project joining four private Michigan colleges and universities, the University Preparatory Academy (a Detroit-based charter school), and Ducks Unlimited in the creation of wetland in Monroe County along the River Raisin.
Part of the MCF's Partnership for Michigan, the initiative offered students from Albion, Marygrove College, Madonna University, and Siena Heights University the opportunity to further their understanding of and commitment to environmental issues. The University Preparatory Academy students enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside college faculty and students in a subject matter rarely embraced in large urban high schools.
Lincoln became aware of the Ducks Unlimited project when he was called to a meeting with Jerry Jung in the spring of 2010. Jung, who served as chief operating officer of Michigan CAT for nearly three decades and has a passion for protecting wildlife, acquired thousands of acres of land across Michigan with the goal of reestablishing habitat on the properties.
University Preparatory Academy became involved through Jung's professional contact with Robert Thompson, the philanthropist who funded the charter school in metro Detroit.
"Ken, Heather and Abby are all Center for Sustainability and the Environment students and they work with the University Prep students in boring wells and collecting water samples. David showed them tracks and talked about what animals might be there," Lincoln, who is the project's faculty leader for water quality management, said. "Property manager Charlsie Sederlund also put us to work in restoration. We spent half of the time doing science things and half mostly planting bushes and plants that are going to be the wetland species.
"When the University Prep students came to Albion I had them doing both GIS work, just showing them maps of the area and the whole watershed, and chemistry," Lincoln added. "Chemistry professor Kevin Metz helped us run the samples to analyze the water for nitrates and phosphates."
Lincoln and Gibbons spent an afternoon at University Prep in the spring to help the students make graphs to interpret the data. A native of Toledo, Ohio, and a product of Bowsher High School, Gibbons credited the project for reinforcing the information he was learning in class as well as introducing him to equipment used in the field and the lab. Gibbons, who quickly developed a relationship with the University Prep students, was impressed with their work rate on the land and in the classroom.
"A lot of (the University Prep students) talked about how they had never been outside with the exception of parks," Gibbons said. "They were fighting to be the one who would put their arm down a muddy hole.
"I was also surprised that they would not give up when Dr. Lincoln would introduce a complex concept," Gibbons added. "They would look for information and ask questions. They took full advantage of the opportunity."
Norbert and David Green, director of Albion's Whitehouse Nature Center, were responsible for the wildlife inventory component of the project – surveying and identifying wildlife and their signs, habitats and ecosystems and discussing endangered species. When the UPA students visited Albion last spring, they also had the opportunity to visit the Whitehouse Nature Center to see firsthand wetlands that were created here 30 years ago along with learning about some of Michigan's native wildlife.
Rolling into FURSCA
Gibbons, Nobert and Williams were among the students who stayed on campus this summer to collaborate with faculty on FURSCA projects. Gibbons said his work in Monroe led to his summer project of studying the level of nitrates between ground water seeping into the Kalamazoo River compared with the runoff from the land flowing into the river.
"There is a difference when you convert a farm field to a wetland because it changes the chemistry of the runoff," Gibbons said. "Moisture that runs off a farm field normally picks up nitrates but there is a different when plants are not being grown."
Albion is continuing to participate in the project during the 2011-2012 academic year. Haley Plasman is working with Lincoln on the land use component of the project, while Heidi Phillips is working with Green on the wildlife inventory.