Saturday, June 27, 2015

Second Week: Sun and Sediment

Week 2 has been, unsurprisingly, busy just as the first. However, as I get into the swing of things the amount of knowledge I have been gaining has been increasing- a good sign of weeks to come. First and foremost, this week consisted of days in the field collecting from the automated ISCO samplers that were placed at Tiffany Creek and 18 Mile Creek. The Geochemistry Team also collected some rain water samples at the beginning of the week.
When we weren't in the field we were in the lab learning and perfecting testing methods of Soluble Reactive Phosphorus (SRP) and Total Phosphorus (TP). The most exciting things we learned from this week was that our mini-project idea (a transplant study of the exposed bedrock from the east side of the watershed with the water of the west side of the water shed and vice versa) led to interesting and usable data and plenty of further questions. After an 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM day in the lab on Thursday that tested around 70 samples, we also have plenty of data and questions to move forward in the coming weeks of analysis. This Thursday's data, paired with the work done in the mini project, and with rainfall patterns, and a map of land use, will work to determine just how much Phosphorus is coming from any given source. Our next question will be what methods (chemical or otherwise) can be done to remediate them. Dr. Kuchta and my fellow geochemist students, Austin and Jonah, have been incredibly beneficial to work with and I have learned plenty from them. I will be entering into yet another week excited for further findings!
Friday's Canoe Trip

What sort of terrible chemical sludge is in the lab? Well, it's grape Kool-Aid

A few of the samples...

Some new cow friends courtesy of Dan Prestebak!
On relearning things

In school I’ve learned how to cram what seems like an impossible amount of information into my head, how to predict test questions, and how to write an essay really, really fast.  It’s easy when you’re in school to get wrapped up in deadlines and GPA’s.  The irony in this is that while I’m pushing myself to learn as much as possible, it’s at these times where I lose sight of the bigger picture of why education matters so much.  I could easily rattle off facts from my study guides, but actually applying the things that I’ve learned over the past few years is completely different.  The opportunity to actually apply these concepts to an issue that interest me is the thing that I value most about this project.

                                                                                               Photo of calf borrowed from internet
This past week planning my project with Dr. Ferguson I’ve come to better understand and appreciate both the utility and the complexity of the things I’ve been studying.  Thinking back to tangents my professors have gone on which I previously brushed aside as being something that wouldn’t matter for the class, I now finally understand what my professors were trying to get at.  My greatest hope for myself this summer is to understand economics through the eyes of someone other than a student. By actually carrying out research and closely studying a real problem, I hope to gain a better idea of what working as an economist as opposed actually implies,          
and whether this is a field that I seriously want to pursue. 
What else have I learned? I’ve learned that healthy soil smells earthy, about rotational grazing, that cheese curds beat mozzarella sticks, and that on rare occasions the Northern Lights can be seen from Wisconsin.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Redefining Your Environment

According to Merriam Webster Dictionary:

Environment: en·vi·ron·ment: the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded.
Sustainable: sus·tain·able: able to last or continue for a long time.

My collegiate history of involvement with environmental protests, petitions, campaigns, and resolutions have taught me a great deal about local and global environmental issues and sustainability. What these experiences have failed to teach me is how to define and place these environmental issues into any context. It wasn't until I became an anthropology major that I began to value the importance of definition; more specifically the ability to redefine what "the environment" encompasses and what it means to be "sustainable". Countless ethnographies, classes and discussions have opened my eyes to the complexities that exist within understanding and defining the boundaries of environmental issues, eliminating my naivety in believing there is any ease in achieving a sustainable environment.

An Unconventional Classroom

A classroom is usually defined as a building with some a teacher at the front and patient students sitting at their desks waiting to absorb the knowledge that is going to be thrown at them... Well the problem is that I'm a hands on learner and prefer to physically work on a problem not just get a lecture about it. Thankfully the LAKES-REU program allows me to get my hands dirty in the morning and then really clean in the afternoon. What I mean by this is that we get to travel into the field to collect samples, gather data, and fight off mosquitoes in the morning and then return to the lab to put gloves and lab coats on so that we can make science.

Finding Chest Deep Water.
Well I guess Science isn't really descriptive. Well either way my group or the geology sector of the LAKES-REU program is studying how much of the Phosphorous actually enters the water via groundwater or any other source. We have been working on this problem by collecting water samples from 18 Mile Creek and Tiffany Creek via a automatic water sampler that we have set on a timer (its a lot better then driving there everyday). However, when we do end up at the sites we have started entering the water to calculate how much water is actually passing through that area, otherwise known as discharge. Finally, we analyze the data and water samples in the lab to get even more data. Now more data could be any amount but on Thursday it meant setting a new record for consecutively running and testing water samples at UW-Stout (at least according to Dr. Matt Kuchta), which I gladly and sadly hold with my fellow geology interns (Andy and Jonah).

Our Classroom: Otherwise known as Tiffany Creek
So as of now you basically can decided that a very well trained monkey could beat our record on testing the water samples, and my only response to that is where is that monkey because yesterday was really long. In all seriousness though I'm here to learn, and I truly want to learn about the issues that can destroy a beautiful resource like Lake Menomin because back home in Maryland we have the same troubles occurring in and around my beloved Chesapeake Bay. I plan on getting my answers and knowledge that I can take back home by sticking it out through the long 8 weeks, reading the literature that my mentors assign and that I find myself, and most of all I will just be observant. If I stick to this route then I will be able to learn so much and be able to look in depth at our data, which is going to be very interesting.

The only other really big thing that I want to learn and fairly soon at that is.... Who has the best cheese???

Learning Everyday

Photo taken by the awesome Chris Ferguson

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." I think that this has been particularly relevant to me these past two weeks.

You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks If You Try

Picture by Chris Ferguson; @ Dan Prestebak's Farm with  Rascal
This week's topic is about meta cognition, so it only makes sense to talk about the most meta of all disciplines (okay, second to philosophy): anthropology.

When I got accepted into this program and looked further into what I would be doing for the summer, I wasn't quite sure this was the kind of Anthropology I wanted to practice.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

I wanted this to be a witty title, but I don't know how to be witty

What are you learning this summer? Since, accepting this internship I have been asked this question about a good twenty times. Two weeks ago, I would have said, "I will be studying farmer social networks and seeing how that influences their sustainable farming practices." Now, I can tell you that I will learn a variety of skills such as how to create a survey, how to interview people, how social networks work, how to run statistical analyses, farming, and lastly about the community. So, what do I want to learn about? I want to learn more about how research is conducted and I also want learn how to communicate more effectively. I plan on engaging myself thoroughly in the project and taking every opportunity to learn and enhance skills already builded upon. I know that research is a trial and error process, but I am excited to experience every aspect that encompasses the long and tedious journey of a researcher.

P. S. The picture is courtesy of the wonderful cooking at the waterfront bar and grill

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday's adventure featuring Eniola (top left) and Lisette (top right). 

     There is so much that I have learned already and there is so much I have yet to learn. Most of my learning so far has taken place in the lab. As I have been getting more experience in the lab I am now becoming comfortable doing things on my own, which is a great feeling. My feeling of independence makes me feel more confident in my work which is a necessary quality for a scientist.
     I have learned so much through my coworkers as well. I am happy to be working beside Lanna! Her and I each have different strengths and we make a brilliant team. We have also been working with two Stout students who have been so incredibly helpful in showing Lanna and I the ropes. The four of us do field work on Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin. We work as a team and keep it fun to avoid making 7 hours of water sampling seem like a chore. This week has reinforced what I have learned before, that working with great people makes working seem less like work.
     I can't wait to learn more lab techniques and start working on side projects with Dr. Nold. There are many opportunities available this summer that could expand my knowledge and competency in biology and applied chemistry. I hope to take advantage of these opportunities to make the most of this experience.
     My ultimate goal of this summer is to decide what my plan is when I complete my undergraduate degree next spring. There are many ideas floating around in my head and my goal is to choose in time to apply for graduate school in the fall. This means that I have to learn more about myself to make this decision. I know for sure that I am not done with school yet, although I am not sure if I ever will feel that I am ready to stop. I love to learn and I want a career that allows me to never stop learning. Learning about myself and what I really want my future to look like will undoubtably be the biggest challenge I will face this summer, however, I am happy to take it on and am excited to see how this experience will influence my decision.

Your education is the one thing no one can ever take from you

This summer I have the opportunity to learn about phosphorus and the major effects it has on fresh bodies of water, i.e. the lakes. I also have the chance to go out on the lakes and take water samples using various equipment's to test the levels of phosphorus in water. Each time we go out on the lake, it's obvious that the algae is growing rapidly and turning the water green and smelly. One thing I want to learn more about this summer are the ways in which farmers can change their farming methods so that they are using the most conservative methods possible. I believe that there are no questions that should be left unanswered. One way I plan on learning more is by asking questions about certain concepts and literature that I may not understand. I am here to learn as much as possible and by doing so I can use my knowledge to make a change.