A summer program at Texas A&M University recently provided 15 undergraduate students with fellowships in water quality to study the impacts of on-site sewage facilities on soil and water quality.
The students were from Texas A&M, Prairie View A&M Florida A&M, and Kansas State universities.
The two-year undergraduate program is offered by Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M universities and was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
According to program coordinators, the goals of the Research and Extension Experiential Learning program are to teach students the scientific principles that govern water and contaminant transport in unsaturated soils, the role of microbes in the soil to disinfect municipal wastewater, provide hands-on learning experiences in water quality, to familiarize students with the role of Extension Specialists and career opportunities in Extension and make them aware of graduate school opportunities.
The students conducted research at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service On-site Sewage Facility Training and Research Center at the RELLIS campus in College Station.
“I really liked the applied aspect of this class,” said Lupita Arreola, a biological systems engineering major at Kansas State University. “Learning all of this makes you want to help someone learn about water quality and waste management, particularly how one septic system is better than the other. I’d really like to travel to a developing country someday. I think I would really like this field of work.”
Leah Kocian, a biological and agricultural engineering major at Texas A&M, said she enjoyed the field research activities.
“It was really neat to conduct field tests for E. coli, perform chlorine tests … I thought all of that that was really cool,” Kocian said. “After being part of this fellowship program, I’m really interested in the research aspect at this point.”
Kocian said she would like to continue to pursue water quality research in graduate school in the future.
“I hope to investigate ways to improve filters and water migration from one area to another,” she said. “My career goals at this moment are to stick to my dream of providing clean water to people all over the globe. I hope to reach those people who do not have clean water readily accessible so they can finally say that they feel healthy, strong and provided for. I hope to lead projects around the globe, including domestic ones that change people’s lives for the better, and to leave a positive impact on people as a whole.”
Participants also experienced interaction with a multidisciplinary team of Extension specialists, agricultural engineers and soil-water microbiologists from Texas A&M and Prairie View campuses.
The program was led by Dr. Anish Jantrania, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service wastewater specialist, located in Temple.
Drew Gholson, AgriLife Extension program specialist and Texas Well Owner Network coordinator in College Station, was one of three guest speakers who visited with the students, Gholson provided an overview of the program that assists private well owners with water quality testing.
“There are more than one million private water wells in Texas,” Gholson said. “Nitrates are a common problem.”
Other guest speakers were Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension interim associate director for state operations, and Randy Chellete with the Texas Onsite Wastewater Association, who discussed the water related activities in which their organizations are engaged. A field trip to a nearby onsite wastewater business allowed students to see production of concrete tanks, aerobic treatment systems, and a septic tank pump truck.
“I hope to gain basic knowledge on soil and water quality and how these affect the water and wastewater industry, to better prepare me for a career in that field and future classes I will take while earning my Biological and Agricultural degree at Texas A&M,” said Justin MacManus, a biological and agricultural engineering major at Texas A&M. “I also hope to learn basic research practices and principles to prepare myself for grad school.”
MacManus said he is interested in master’s degree work in either Biological and Agricutural Engineering or civil engineering.
McManus also said that, beyond providing him with hands-on lab experience, the fellowship had already paid off at his internship with a civil engineering firm, as it allowed him to offer viable suggestions to his supervisor about a project on direct potable water reuse.
“I was amazed at how the things I learned in this program are already helping me as I continue to work towards becoming a consulting engineer upon graduation,” he said.
Applications for the REEU program for next summer will be available Sept. 1. To participate in the program, student must be a U.S. citizens or permanent residents, be a university student with freshman or sophomore classification, be an Agriculture Science/Agricultural Engineering major, be a minimum of 18 years of age, carry a 2.75 grade point average, and complete an essay describing research interests, career goals and related experiences.
The fellowship program offers three hours of course credit for undergraduate research experiences in water quality, a $2,500 stipend, campus housing, meal allowance, internship opportunities with the AgriLife Extension Service, and a $250 travel allowance to present their research at a water quality conference. The program included field trips, guest lecturers and laboratory activities.
For more information about the program, visit http://www.pvamu.edu/cahs/reeu/.