Research and Outreach on the Mighty Ohio

Research and Outreach on the Mighty Ohio

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Over the years, TMC has grown to include facilities that any college would be proud to have: Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel, the Eva G. Farris Art Gallery, TMC Theatre, Connor Convocation Center, BB&T Field, BB&T Observatory, and the Biology Field Station, to name a few. One of the most unique facilities is the Thomas More College Biology Field Station acquired in 1967. Located in California, Ky., the Field Station is home to the Center for Ohio River Research and Education (CORRE), established in 1998. Formerly the site of Lock and Dam 35 built in 1919 by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, this facility is a one-of-a-kind center for applied biological research and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach to the local community and region at large.

Research is at the heart of the Field Station, which offers an interactive setting where TMC students and other visitors become involved in STEM lessons, taking advantage of the modern laboratories and variety of outdoor settings. The CORRE has become a regional center for research and consulting in collaboration with government agencies such as the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, The United States EPA, and United States Fish and Wildlife Services, as well as private industry, such as Sanitation District #1, the Newport Aquarium, and DUKE Energy. These efforts result in excellent opportunities as members in environmental education and community service as students and faculty interact with a diverse group of professionals with established backgrounds in a large range of STEM disciplines.

Excited field trip students on the trail at the Field Station.

Excited field trip students on the trail at the Field Station.

Opportunities to be part of the research and outreach at the Field Station are broken down into several roles and at any given time there are 35 to 40 undergraduate students from around the country who participate. Each summer CORRE offers up to 12 paid internships to undergraduate students. These research interns become immersed in the riparian lifestyle of the Field Station and are involved in animal husbandry, sampling, monitoring, and all manner of science that is focused on ecological and environmental research. They live in on-site housing, creating a living, learning community and are able to complete projects and research in the Lodge facility and Field Station labs. Funding comes from a variety of grants including DUKE Energy Foundation, the Boone County Conservation District, Sanitation District No. 1, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. In addition to these full-time internships there are also part-time internships, environmental educator, camp mentor, and work-study positions available for qualified students.

Outreach throughout the fall and spring semesters includes day-long field trips for K-12 students conducted by the Field Station staff and TMC students in the education and STEM fields. The field trip programs are developed to educate and engage visitors through standard-based activities that focus on the biodiversity and ecology of the Ohio River watershed while promoting inquiry through hands-on participation. The goal is to teach the value of the watershed to those who live within it, and empower students to make a positive impact on the River and surrounding environment.

Outreach is not limited to field trips. Each summer the Field Station becomes home to the High School Summer STEM Institute which is a week-long exploration of the STEM disciplines for up to 50 high school campers who spend five days and five nights alongside college professors and college students participating in hands-on projects in the field, on the Ohio River, at the Biology Field Station, at the BB&T Observatory, and in the classrooms and science labs at TMC.

Watch this overview video of what the Field Station has to offer.

Moreover caught up with a couple of TMC interns involved in research and outreach at the Field Station:

Mitchell Kriege conducts freshwater mussel research with laboratory manager Emily Imhoff.

Mitchell Kriege conducts freshwater mussel research with laboratory manager Emily Imhoff.

Mitchell Kriege ’16 (Environment Science)

Mitchell first visited the Field Station as a STEM camper his sophomore year in high school. As a college student, he was a CORRE intern during the summer of 2014 between his second and third years at TMC. He performed as the intern leader of the Duke Bioassessment team. This on-going study monitors the environment around two coal-burning power plants that Duke Energy operates on the Ohio River. Physical and biological tests are run daily to monitor changes in the ecosystem both upstream and downstream by using two different types of nets at four different sites. The work was sometimes tedious, and there were weather-related and equipment challenges, but it’s not hard to tell that Mitchell is passionate about what he is doing.

“There are always interesting people around the Field Station, it’s sort of a hub for environmental and ecological research,” says Mitchell. As a result of some of these connections, Mitchell volunteered with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, dedicating time to research the freshwater mussel population in Kentucky and found his niche. Mitchell currently participates in the mussel program at the Field Station, helping to measure and identify 15 different species that are found locally. Studying mussels is a good way to measure water quality, as certain species do not tolerant specific forms of water pollution. As a result of his environmental work, Mitchell was selected for an internship in southwest Montana where he worked in high elevation mountain streams as a fishery intern surveying and protecting threatened fish species and collecting information on mussels native to that region.

Tori Liles holds a large paddlefish caught while electrofishing with campers on the Ohio River.

Tori Liles holds a large paddlefish caught while electrofishing with campers on the Ohio River.

Mitchell has secured a position with Environmental Solutions Innovations (ESI) in Cincinnati for the summer, working along waterways in the eastern U.S., evaluating mussels along job sites and arranging relocation of those creatures as well as notifying agencies where necessary. He plans to go to grad school at Marshall University (Huntington, West Virginia) where his eventual desire is for a career that includes research and work with mussels. “The Field Station helped me blossom not only as a student, but as a person and helped me learn…how to be a good scientist,” says Mitchell.

Tori Liles ’17 (Environmental Science)

As a CORRE intern during the summer of 2015, Tori also had a role as a member of the Ohio River Bioassessment team. Like Mitchell, she monitored the river by examining water quality, habitat, and fish populations each day. Her time as an intern included minor roles in the freshwater mussel program, clipping dorsal fin samples for fish DNA barcoding (still in trial stages), and learning to calibrate drinking water test equipment.

Tori also worked with the outreach program as a camp mentor to high school and middle school students participating in research techniques while visiting the Field Station. “I believe this experience was mutually beneficial as I was able to share my knowledge and see the students grow in enthusiasm, knowledge, and interest in the field,” explains Tori. Once she graduates, Tori plans to continue her education in Environmental Science in hopes of pursuing a career with the Ohio EPA.

 

Mitchell and Tori are just two of the great stories happening at the Field Station, for an introduction to the 2016 STEM interns visit thomasmore.edu/fieldstation/interns.cfm

 

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