MANAGING A HYDROGEOLOGIC RESEARCH STATION AT WESTERN CAROLINA UNIVERSITY: AN UNDERGRADUATE PERSPECTIVE
The Geoscience and Natural Resources Department at Western Carolina University developed the Western Carolina Hydrological Research Station (WCHRS; wchrs.wcu.edu) in partnership with NC DENR. Since, NSF support has created sustained support for undergraduate research at the station, including equipment and research fellows. The station includes over 50 groundwater wells, 9 soil moisture sites, 6 stream gages, a lysimeter, and 3 rain gauges. The research objectives the WCHRS focus on groundwater and surface water interaction and the hydrologic impact of historic land usage.
The NSF grant objective of the research is to better understand the benefits associated with undergraduate research, not only through in-class projects, but also for research fellows who operate the station on a longer-term basis. Since the research station was developed in 2010, around 15 undergraduates have been trained as research fellows. These research fellows have taken responsibility for the day-to-day functions of the station, participating in data analysis, and improving the research station through their own initiative and creativity. Benefits experienced among current and past research fellows range from learning how to be a leader to obtaining a greater knowledge of field techniques and equipment. Dozens of research projects have been conducted by students using the station, many of which have been presented at GSA conferences. Undergraduate research fellows have largely been responsible for the continued expansion of the station. In the future, the WCHRS plans to continue to be operated by undergraduate students, offering its benefits to students in class, research fellows outside of class, and contributing relevant research to the scientific community.