College of Science

Grad students teach high-schoolers how to monitor water quality


CENTRAL — The average person probably doesn’t think of clean water as being filled with a bunch of bugs. But in reality some groups of bug larvae are sensitive to pollution, so if they’re not found wiggling around in creeks, streams and rivers, the odds are the water quality isn’t very good.

Searching for aquatic macroinvertebrates (water bugs that we can see with our own eyes) is just one of the ways 37 students from Daniel High School — in conjunction with graduate students from Clemson University’s “What’s in Our Waters (WOW)” project— spent several months examining the water quality of Indian Creek in the Clemson Experimental Forest. The multi-level testing included the collection and study of three kinds of data: chemical (dissolved oxygen, coliform and nitrates), physical (conductivity, pH and turbidity) and biological (larvae such as caddisfliesmayflies and stoneflies).

WOW is an outreach service project that was created in the summer of 2013 by Clemson graduate students Namrata Sengupta, Lauren Sweet, Austin Wray, Kim Newton and Christie Sampson. It has since grown to 12 mentors who help to educate high school students in Anderson and Pickens counties about a variety of water resource issues.

WOW members held in-class presentations for Daniel students. Image Credit: Clemson University

With assistance from Clemson Extension natural resources agent Cathy Reas Foster and 4-H agent Janine Sutter, the Indian Creek project began in October 2014 and culminated at the Clemson Biological Annual Science Symposium (CBASS) on Feb. 28, where the Daniel students presented their results on campus in front of scientists and faculty.

“There are very few high schools in South Carolina that can partner with graduate students at a major university and build meaningful connections in science and other fields of study,” said Chuck Conrad, who teaches biology at Daniel along with two AP environmental science courses. “Hearing from Clemson students is authentic, relevant and encourages my students to think big.”

The Indian Creek project was broken into four phases:

  • In-class presentations to Daniel students by WOW mentors,
  • Field trips to Indian Creek during which students were shown how to observe the bug larvae and operate the chemical testing kits,
  • In-class mentoring to prepare posters that summarized their results and
  • A presentation at the CBASS symposium.

“I was personally very passionate about the in-class mentoring,” said Sengupta, who is in the fourth year of her Ph.D. program in environmental toxicology. “I think it makes a difference when high school students get to talk to a mentor outside of the classroom. The WOW collaboration between Daniel and Clemson should be a model for other high schools and universities in South Carolina and throughout the nation.”

Joseph Jensen, a junior at Daniel, helped with data collection at the creek site and co-produced a poster that was presented at the symposium.

“It was a great experience and there was a real feeling of discovery as we analyzed the data,” said Jensen, who lives in Clemson. “And at the symposium, I learned that presenters need to have good social skills. You have to be able to engage with people, to walk around and ask questions.”

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