Water Studies


From Northern Michigan to Costa Rica


Posted on Jul 1, 2015

Randy Webster

Randy Webster

Randy Webster

Randy is a student in the Freshwater Studies program at Northwestern Michigan College. He has been the recipient of several scholarships: Adopt-A-Student, the Global Opportunity Fund, the Science/Math Honors Merit Scholarship, and the Jensen-Lena C Scholarship.

Randy visits a waterfall near the Arenal volcano.

Randy visits a waterfall near the Arenal volcano.

Randy has many reasons to celebrate summer. One of them is his successful completion of the Freshwater Studies Internship with an international, interdisciplinary team of students and faculty from Northwestern Michigan College in the United States, and EARTH University in Costa Rica. An accomplished chef with 40 years of experience, Randy is broadening his professional outlook, exploring a new career in water. We are very pleased to feature his internship story.

Randy writes about his experiences:

Soil and water analysis lab at EARTH University

Soil and water analysis lab at EARTH University

Collecting soil samples at a banana plantation

Collecting soil samples at a banana plantation

There are many things that impacted me during my Freshwater Studies internship in Costa Rica. The learning experiences I was offered were multidisciplinary and well-rounded, most informative and inspiring.

The most interesting thing I did was collecting water, soil and nematode samples, but, in addition to taking the samples, I learned much from the work we did in the lab, while we analyzed the samples ourselves. Lab work was particularly interesting to me because we performed several tests that I have never done before like nematode counts, chemical oxygen demand, soil density and pH.

Lots of exercise walking down 115 steps to the valley!

Lots of exercise walking down 115 steps to the valley!

Far and foremost, I will remember the Costa Rican people, who strike me as very friendly. I appreciated being exposed to many cultures at EARTH University, especially after being cooped up here in Northern Michigan for nearly ten years!

I had the fortune of visiting Roots, the farm where I did my homestay. Roots is not a farm, per se, as it doesn’t really produce any agriculture, but it is an ideal place to learn about sustainable life.

The property sits on approximately 7 hectares and is sunk deep in a valley, 80 meters, with a river along the rear of the property and some fairly intense jungle between the house and the river. There were 115 steps leading down into the valley.

Randy with Roots owner Douglas Gomez and an NMC UAS student

Randy with Roots owner Douglas Gomez and an NMC UAS student

The owners, Douglas and María, raise tilapia, which they harvest twice a year. Douglas gives tours of his farm to school children, and others, promoting green living and existing as one with the land. He is also on a committee of ten people to preserve the river that runs behind his property.

Chef Randy cooks tilapia for his host family.

Chef Randy cooks tilapia for his host family.

The first day at Raíces we spent just touring the property and cleaning up some of the trails. That night I talked Maria into letting me cook the tilapia for the evening meal. I marinated it in garlic, chilies, fresh lemon and limes, and olive oil. Then I saute’d it with more chilies, garlic, coconut milk and finished it with hard butter. Turned out great!

Overall, this was an outstanding experience. I just wish we had been there longer so I could get immersed in Spanish and develop my language skills to the level I demand of myself. I did, however, learn how to say “Pura Vida” without an accent.

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Growing female scientists


Posted on Dec 11, 2014

How do you get girls interested in STEM fields?

Consider showing them some stems.

Real, live, green ones, that is, with leaves growing. Put the girls — young women, really — in charge, from planting the microgreens to tending them to monitoring them.  Charge them with running experiments and collecting data, like whether the greens grow better under fluorescent lights or LED lights, and whether plain water or fish tank water is more nourishing. Let them harvest, and judge which kind tastes best.

From left, Taylor West, Constanza Hazelwood and Karla Vega with greens grown in their vertical agriculture project.

From left, Taylor West, Constanza Hazelwood and Karla Vega with greens grown in the vertical agriculture structure shown behind them.

That’s what intern Karla Vega and student Taylor West did this semester in a lab on NMC’s Great Lakes campus. The pair forged a research partnership that not only bridged language and cultural barriers but helps lay the groundwork for sustainable, indoor agriculture that could eventually improve the diets of millions.

“To get girls engaged in science we need to let them make decisions, give them room to make mistakes and try things out on their own,” said NMC Water Studies Institute Education and Outreach Coordinator Constanza Hazelwood, who supervised Vega and  West’s research this semester.

Vega is a Bolivian student at EARTH University in Costa Rica, a leading institution in agricultural sciences and sustainable development. Hazelwood has cultivated connections at EARTH since 2009 and was looking to take the hydroponic vertical agriculture project she started a year ago to the next level. Enter Vega on a semester-long internship.

“Karla came with a lot of expertise in what we’re doing. She brought a lot of innovation to what we’re doing in the lab,” Hazelwood said.

The challenge of the vertical agriculture project bonded Vega, 20, who studies agronomy and natural resources management in Costa Rica, and West, 21, whose science interest was piqued in a high school agriscience program.

“People say, ‘why agriculture when you are from a city?’” said Vega, whose home city, Cochabamba, is home to almost 2 million people. “It was a challenge. This project can be used inside cities, where they don’t have space to grow crops.”

“That’s what women like, is a challenge,” said West.

The challenge will continue next semester, when West will visit Vega at EARTH, joining Hazelwood’s fifth study abroad trip to Costa Rica.

“The tables are going to be turned,” said West, who said her Spanish skills are negligible but expressed no concern about immersing herself in the language.

Hazelwood, too, has no doubts both students will continue to flourish. She notes that the pair made the greatest gains after the male student who originally supervised the vertical agriculture project left.

“They believe in themselves. They’re very self-confident,” she said. “It is about believing in them, at times it is getting out of their way, but always being available to support them.”

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Hans Van Sumeren, director of the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute at Northwestern Michigan College and Carl Shangraw, professor of surveying engineering at Ferris State University talk about the Freshwater Studies program and the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute at NMC. The program was one of three winners of the Trends in Occupational Studies’ 2013 Outstanding Educator Awards. The video is a Schoolcraft College Media Service Production.

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Adventures in Costa Rica

Adventures in Costa Rica


Posted on Sep 24, 2013

Earlier this month, NMC students Mara Penfil and Miriam Owsley presented a lecture on their 2013 internship in environmental management in Costa Rica.  They, along with fellow NMC student Samantha Padgett traveled to Costa Rica in May to EARTH University for the internship, and where they could interact with other students from around the world.

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NMC Great Lakes Water Studies student Chris Horvath is in Iceland this summer on a Marine Advanced Technology Education Center (MATE) internship aboard Columbia University’s research vessel the R/V Langseth, doing research on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  Chris is sending us periodic blog posts to update us on his adventure.  You can read the rest of them here.

Before I delve into this blog entry, there are a couple things I’d like to address:

First, in the last entry I detailed our gravimeter aboard the boat and identified it as a Lacoste and Romberg G237 unit, which is in fact the portable unit I will be using when we land back in Iceland.  That unit is taken to various control points around the world where the exact gravity has been surveyed in using some other very sophisticated equipment.  The Science Techs and myself will be taking the G237 to two control points in Reykjavik:  At the University of Iceland; and, outside the Hallgrímskirkja (giant Irish Lutheran church in the center of town).  The data we get from those points can be compared to the calibration of the Lockheed Martin B210 unit that is secured in the main lab aboard the ship.  All the data we collected during the cruise can then be confirmed as accurate and true; though, calibration is done before the cruise as well, and the B210 is monitored throughout our cruise.

Second, there is a website devoted to this cruise, which also includes some blog entries by other members of the team:  R/V Langseth – Reykjanes Ridge Cruise

I highly recommend that you check it out for some different perspectives.

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NMC Great Lakes Water Studies student Chris Horvath is in Iceland this summer on a Marine Advanced Technology Education Center (MATE) internship aboard Columbia University’s research vessel the R/V Langseth, doing research on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  Chris is sending us periodic blog posts to update us on his adventure.  You can read the rest of them here.

Contrary to popular discussion overheard in the galley, there is a point to all this drifting and isolation.  We are here to affirm assumptions from lands far away.  To stand firmly on ground never before tread upon – so to speak.  To discover the secrets of a land not yet explored.   At least so I’m inclined to believe.

My job is fairly straightforward.  I stand watch over the scientific equipment collecting various types of data by monitoring the computers designed to record the data in real time, and help troubleshoot and launch the equipment required to retrieve said data.  I suppose a brief walk-through is in order to fully understand what we are collecting and how it can be considered accurate and true.

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