Water researchers off and running

VT EPSCoR lake and stream researchers off and running

June 20, 2019
Staff Report
Group shot

VT EPSCoR high school students returning from their day in the field — Saint Michael’s biology Professor Declan McCabe is in the middle with red shirt in the photo directly above. The group were on their way back into Cheray Science Hall (below). (Photos by Mark Tarnacki)

This summer the VT EPSCoR Center for Workforce Development & Diversity (CWDD) has been busy welcoming 18 undergraduate interns and 46 high school participants to both the Saint Michael’s College and University of Vermont campuses for the 2019-2020 research year.

Their work delves into lake and stream ecology, climatology, water chemistry and microbiology, soil nutrients, environmental policy and management and land use management with particular attention recently on resilience to extreme weather events in the Lake Champlain Basin.

The most visible presence on the Saint Michael’s campus through VT EPSCoR programs involves the high school participants; 17 out of 18 undergraduate interns are based at UVM with one based part-time at both UVM and Saint Michael’s.  But it’s a different story for the high school students. who have been spending their Training Week at Saint Michael’s, said alumna Janel Roberge ‘12, a biology graduate who now works as Education & Outreach Liaison for VT EPSCoR CWDD after being deeply involved in the program during her student days. The Center where she is employed works to cultivate and prepare a diverse science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce in Vermont by inspiring students to enter STEM careers.

“As far as the high school program goes, participants spend 100 percent of the Training Week either at Saint Michael’s on campus or out at our various field sites (local streams) getting field trained,” said Roberge about the group that could be spotted several days running this week in the parking lot by the Chapel and Cheray Science Hall piling into vans to head to field sites each day, before returning to campus to process their data in labs under faculty supervision.

Julyanice Cruz ’22, the one intern who is part-time at Saint Michael’s and at UVM this summer, is a Saint Michael’s student from Puerto Rico, Roberge said. “The reason she is a Saint Michael’s intern is because she was involved in our high school program for three years and was recruited by our own Carlos Vega of the Saint Michel’s Admission Office.” Other students also have gone on from the high school program to attend Saint Michael’s for College, says Declan McCabe of the biology faculty, a longtime leader for the VT EPSCoR high school students at Saint Michael’s year after year, including Sarah Burridge ’17, Sarah Eustis ’20 and Rosie Jacobson ’17.

The undergrad orientation week took place during the short week following Memorial Day. “During that time, students from Vermont, Puerto Rico, Maryland, Indiana and abroad got to know each other and the beautiful Lake Champlain that they’ll be studying throughout their 10-week summer internship,” said Roberge. “Three weeks into the internship and so far, so great! Students in the various research teams (Ecological, Social Systems, and Integrated Assessment Model) have begun brainstorming with their research mentors the topics about which they’ll be presenting at a Student Research Symposium in August.Students enter cheray

Roberge said that as a former Saint Michael’s student and VT EPSCoR intern, “I can really speak to the transformative power of the internship experience that we provide. Many students come to us from backgrounds that would not traditionally allow for them to be involved in such cutting edge research. It is equal parts humbling and inspiring to be involved with a program such as this – one where you really feel as though the work you’re doing is truly making a difference.”

As part of her role as Education & Outreach Liaison for the CWDD, Roberge said, “I am also lucky enough to spearhead our education outreach efforts that typically take place in the fall season. These events are equally rewarding in that we really have the potential to spark something in younger kids that eventually grows into a love of science and a continued interest in pursuing curiosities. Being a first-generation college student and female, I feel so proud knowing that some little girl in a classroom that I visit might in any way look up to me — just a goofy nerd wearing street clothes, as a scientist – and know that she can do the same!”

Training Week has been in full-swing for EPSCoR students this week. “We have teams from Puerto Rico, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Vermont,” Roberge said, adding that highlights of the week have included: Time spent with the UVM Adventure Ropes Course playing get-to-know you games, “always a favorite of students and teachers”; lectures including Socio-Economic Gamine Simulations with UVM researchers; a Stream Table Activity with Saint Michael’s geography professor Richard Kujawa; teachers receiving professional development with Roberge; teams taking entertaining photos  representing their home institutions; and field training, so teams know what they will be doing at their study sites throughout the sampling year.

On the schedule for the remainder of the week, she said mid-week, were a Career Fair for student participants with many different careers represented; continued field work efforts, “with a focus on Declan McCabe’s favorite benthic macroinvertebrates,”; teacher panel where returning teachers provide mentorship to new teachers to the program; data and poster critique sessions “to provide guidance to teams on the ‘product’ we’re expecting from them at a Student Research Symposium to be held in April 2020”; and some free time exploring downtown Burlington.

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