Undergraduate students from universities across the nation, including one Virginia Tech student are working side by side with Virginia Tech professors this summer on research projects related to sustainable management of resources.

Participating students are

  • Brittany Bogle, of Neosho, Mo., who is a student at the University of Arkansas;
  • Corrie Campbell, of Pittsburg, Penn., who is a student at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology;
  • Frank Gronwald, of Greensboro, N.C., who is a student at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University;
  • John Kenny, of Colorado Springs, Colo., who is a student at the University of Kansas;
  • Ini Li, of Rockville, Md., who is a student at Columbia University;
  • Monica Neely, of Aloha, Ore., who is a student at Oregon State University;
  • MaryTheresa Pendergast, of Braintree, Mass., who is a student at Columbia University; and
  • Krista Williams, of Blacksburg, Va., who is a student at Virginia Tech.

In its second year at Virginia Tech, the student research program is supported through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU), a competitive grant program that is awarded to select research universities.

“The essence of this initiative is to allow undergraduate students work for 10 weeks in a stimulating interdisciplinary environment, while nourishing their analytical skills and creativity as future scientists and engineers,” says Tamim Younos, associate director at Virginia Tech’s Virginia Water Resources Research Center and research professor of water resources in the Department of Geography in the College of Natural Resources.

Younos is the program director for the summer-long interdisciplinary watershed sciences and engineering program, and is assisted by Vinod Lohani, associate professor of engineering education at Virginia Tech.

The National Science Foudation’s-Research Experience for Undergraduate fellows are selected competitively, giving priority to highly qualified applicants of diverse cultural background who are underrepresented in water sciences and engineering or who may have few research opportunities at their home institutions. Students working at Virginia Tech this summer have come from the University of Arkansas, University of Kansas, Oregon State University, and Columbia University.

Krista Williams, a Virginia Tech student majoring in environmental science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is working with Charles Hagerdon III, professor of crop and soil environmental science, to understand why fecal indicator bacteria such as E. coli and enterococcus persist in beach sand and sediments. Williams explained that these bacteria indicate that pathogens and harmful viruses are present in the water, which can harm human health.

“This opportunity will be invaluable to my career by challenging me to develop future pollution tracking and prevention strategies for contaminated water sources,” said Williams. During the course of her research this summer, she also will travel to various ocean, bay, and river beaches throughout Virginia to collect sand and water samples for testing.

Another fellow, MaryTheresa Monahan-Pendergast, an earth and environmental engineering major at Columbia University, plans to attend graduate school after graduating. The research opportunity is a great way to glimpse at what graduate life is like,” said Pendergast. “It also provides the opportunity to experience many different aspects of watershed management and resources. Skills such as independent research and integrated thinking are ones only learned through experiences such as this.”

Pendergast is working with John Little, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering, to understand oxygenation systems in drinking water reservoirs in order to increase raw water quality and decrease treatment costs.

The program supports active research participation by undergraduate students in areas ranging from ethics and values to astronomical sciences. The Virginia Water Resources Research Center’s watershed sciences and engineering project started in 2007 and will bring undergraduate students to Virginia Tech for one more summer, in 2009.

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