Student Blog

Monday, 27-June-2016

Hi all!

My name is Katie VanDooren and I am studying Environmental Science/Public Health at Drake University—class of 2019. This summer I have the privilege to immerse myself in a couple of Dr. Levi’s research projects. The majority of my summer will be spent collecting water samples along the North, Middle, and South Raccoon River and at their confluences. We are interested in learning about water chemistry of the suspended load in different regions of the Raccoon River watershed. Sediment will also be collected (with Dr. Levi’s fancy new Ponar) to perform denitrification assays as stream order increases and urbanizes.

This summer we are also collaborating with Polk County Conservation to start a long-term water budget survey of Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt.

I have a few goals that I hope to check off my list before classes resume this fall:

  1. Gain expertise in our research. I’m doing undergraduate research coming out of my first year of college—that is insane to me. I am so fortunate to be a part of meaningful science so early in my time here at Drake, an experience many state universities cannot offer to its undergrads. That being said, the work we are doing is complex and interdisciplinary, as the field of environmental science is. This “learn-as-you-go” style of teaching is yet another thing that excites me about this summer. Perfecting data collection technique in the field is every scientist’s ideal work day, and from my experience, it’s also the easy part. The challenge for me will be to combine background knowledge, conclusions drawn from our data, and implications to communicate the science to the people who are scientifically illiterate, but directly affected by the health of the Raccoon River.
  2. Get this research up and running. The research assistants (Thomas and myself) are in a really interesting position this summer. As Dr. Levi’s first year at Drake, I get to witness the birth of an entirely new research project. From grant proposals to redeveloping our research questions to ordering supplies, I’ve learned that dialing down our ambitions is the best way to ensure quality data to present next spring and so on. In practice, this looks like delaying a month’s worth of data collection and replacing it with 7 trips to Home Depot and even more online transactions. In a couple of weeks we’ll hit the ground running with our year-long denitrification assays and what a relief that will be!
  3. Grow. As a student discovering what areas of the environmental field intrigue me most. As a worker learning how important flexibility, precise note taking, and organization is (a.k.a. backing data up in 3 different places). As a person who can transfer the leadership skills gained from this experience into a multitude of situations. As a member of society communicating the science of healthy and impaired water systems to family, friends, and uninformed strangers that I come across.

I’ll use this blog as a tool to update you all on what the team is up to, my scattered self-reflections, field adventures, and plenty of pictures! Happy Monday!