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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Poughkeepsie Students Study Watershed Pollution: High school students are leading an effort to understand sources of pollution in Poughkeepsie’s Fallkill Creek, a tributary of the Hudson River.

High school students are leading an effort to understand sources of pollution in Poughkeepsie’s Fallkill Creek, a tributary of the Hudson River. These students are part of the Mid-Hudson Young Environmental Scientist (MH-YES) program, a new mentoring initiative designed to strengthen connections between members of the Poughkeepsie community and scientists studying the Hudson.  

Through MH-YES, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies is working with partners at Marist College to engage local high school students in authentic water quality research, says Rhea Esposito, MH-YES coordinator and the leader of the Cary Institute Education Program.

“Our goal is to expose MH-YES students to the whole process of environmental research about their home ecosystem—from question creation to analyzing data and sharing results with their community,” Esposito says. “With this comprehensive approach, we hope to build students’ knowledge, skills, motivation and confidence in pursuing environmental science,”  

The program consists of two research teams, headed by Stuart Findlay, an aquatic ecologist at Cary Institute, and Raymond Kepner, an associate professor of biology at Marist College.  

Findlay’s team is studying the effects of salt pollution on terrestrial plant growth. They are also exploring soil characteristics that influence salt retention. Kepner’s team is investigating the role of aquatic vegetation in supporting fecal indicator bacteria—a sign of sewage contamination in freshwaters.  

Each team includes a mentor scientist, a science teacher from Poughkeepsie High School, an undergraduate student and three local high school students, all rising seniors.

“This tiered mentoring structure is a unique and crucial feature of MH-YES,” Esposito says. “We wanted to give undergraduates and teachers the opportunity to mentor students in science research, which is an important yet often overlooked skill in any scientific career. These layers represent how good research teams actually work—where members have different knowledge, experience and skills that they bring to the project.” 

The teams will present their work at a project symposium on August 10, from 1 to 3 p.m., in the auditorium of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, located at 2801 Sharon Turnpike (Route 44), Millbrook, NY. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

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