Adapting to the challenges of COVID-19 has led NMC’s flagship Freshwater Studies program to a triple win: improving student learning, community collaboration and career exploration in a single course.
Introduction to Freshwater Studies is the first course in NMC’s first-in-the-nation Freshwater Studies associate degree program. This fall, instructor Constanza Hazelwood reimagined the 20-student course to conform to group size restrictions and distancing requirements necessitated by the coronavirus. She divided it into three tracks that allow students to experience project research, management and communications in areas that align with their interests, from water quality monitoring to habitat restoration to laboratory testing.
“We didn’t want large groups gathering anywhere,” said Hazelwood, who has taught the class for the past 11 years on NMC’s Great Lakes campus. “That’s what got me thinking we must have students outdoors. We cannot teach this on a screen.”
Field work and community partnerships have been part of the course in the past, but this time, it’s a much deeper dive. Hazelwood tapped nine community organizations, many non-profit. Each student works with three as they go through their tracks.
“This time the students are really engaged in the work of the organizations,” said Hazelwood.
Groups like the Grand Traverse Conservation District, where students planted trees to help restore the Boardman River Watershed (photos, courtesy Alan Newton) and the Glen Lake Association in Leelanau County, where students worked on a project to eradicate invasive yellow iris in Big Fisher Lake, part of the Glen Lake/Crystal River watershed.
‘We’re so grateful, not just for the manual labor but the opportunity to work alongside these really incredible students,” said GLA’s Tricia Denton. “These are the future caretakers of our precious water resources.”
Other groups participating include For Love of Water, Circle of Blue, Freshwater Solutions and Fish Pass. (Watch a TV 9 & 10 story on the Fish Pass project.)
“A big component is career exploration,” Hazelwood said. “It’s very much immersion in the professional world.”
“They’re working with master’s and PhD-level professionals, some of them who have been in the field for over 40 years, which is so different from reading about something online or in a textbook,” said Denton, who is also eyeing the group of nine students she worked with for future association interns.
2019 graduate Abbey Hull, now pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Freshwater Science and Sustainability from Western Michigan University, a partnership with NMC, returned to mentor current students in a project using state-of-the-art technology to test water for E. coli.
Traverse City’s Freshwater Solutions is the partner for the project using qPCR technology, which extracts DNA from water samples. Also being deployed to monitor for COVID-19, for E. coli, results are available in two hours instead of the 24 hours it would take using the traditional method of sampling and then attempting to grow cultures.
Drilling down further, qPCR can determine the source of the bacteria — septic tanks, or waterfowl? — which guides appropriate mitigation.
“This was a great way for students to get hands-on, and meet people in the field and network from there,” Hull said.
Hazelwood points out that it’s another opportunity for alumni like Hull, too.
“Even after graduating, they’re still learning from NMC,” she said.
Indonesian Institute Enlists NMC For Coral Reef Study
Marine Tech, Drones, Water Studies Integrated In Mapping Project
Nexus Spring 2019 Cover Feature
Ryan Mater prepares to launch an NMC drone in Indonesia’s Bunaken National ParkHiking through dense tropical jungle on an Indonesian island last May, NMC student Ryan Mater thought longingly of a project he and his marine technology classmates had left unfinished in a college classroom.
It was a hybrid drone, capable of taking off from and landing on water, and then dropping a submersible payload, like a camera. It would have been ideal for the work that had brought Mater and 11 fellow students to Indonesia: Conducting a study on the health of the coral reef system in a national park by integrating their expertise in marine technology, aerial mapping, water quality testing and data collection.
But the classroom was 9,000 miles, 34 hours of travel and three customs inspections away. When they’d chosen their equipment, they’d decided the hybrid was too bulky and too untested to justify shipping. Now Mater and the rest of the NMC team would have to find another way to tackle the task, one they had only a week to complete.
“We had to alter our game plan,” said Mater, 20, who led the group’s Unmanned Aerial Systems unit.
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 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.
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 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.
Earn a two-year degree in the specialized fields of Engineering Technology and, more importantly, graduate with the skills necessary to get a job in the ever-expanding markets that bridge the gap between the engineers and scientists – the strong, vibrant technical and production workforce.
We have combined this with areas of emerging specialized fields to prepare graduates for future industrial business needs regionally, nationally, and globally.
Paige Jehnke is a student at NMC’s Great Lakes Maritime Academy. She is completing a sea project for the fall semester of her junior year in the engine room of the M/V Taku, a ferry which travels the Alaska Marine Highway. Paige is blogging about her adventures and has graciously allowed us to share her updates. (Please note that some updates are post-dated.)
Today is an exciting day to be in Alaska. It is Alaska Day. I don’t really know what that means though. Was this the day that Alaska was purchased? Became a state? Sarah Palin’s Birthday? I don’t know. Today on the Taku we are also giving tours of the ship in Sitka for the fleet’s 50th anniversary. The tours include the engine room.