GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, USA - 2017

Paper No. 334-5
Presentation Time: 2:50 PM


CERVATO, Cinzia1, FLORY, David1, GALLUS, William A.1 and SANDQUIST, Elizabeth2, (1)Dept. of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, Iowa State University, 253 Science I, Ames, IA 50011, (2)Dept. of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011,

As part of an institutional initiative funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, since 2010 an authentic research project has become part of the curriculum of introductory geology labs. In 2015 we expanded the experience from labs to introductory general education courses as part of the ISU Freshman Research Initiative (FRI). One of a dozen FRI streams that span from engineering to kinesiology and genetics, the IOWATER project was started in spring 2016 for students enrolled in the Earth Wind & Fire learning community for first-year geology, Earth science, and meteorology majors. Inspired by the no-longer active volunteer water quality monitoring project of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, we adapted their habitat, chemical, and physical data collection and assessment protocols, and assembled water sampling and analysis kits to be used by students in the field.

Embedded in the spring orientation course for the learning community, the research experience focuses on water quality, and begins by having students download local stream discharge data from the USGS website and local precipitation data from the Iowa Environmental Mesonet website. Students plot the data using Google Sheets and explore basic questions on correlation between discharge and precipitation during discrete 3-month periods.

In the second half of the semester, students are introduced to the field kits and taught the basics of water data collection. Teams of three students formulate a simple research question, like the effect of rainfall on stream discharge, that involves collecting water quality data from 3-4 nearby stream sites over 4-6 weeks. Weekly water quality data from three sites along the South Skunk River collected by the city of Ames water treatment plant are shared with the students for reference. At the end of the project, teams prepare a poster with their findings and share them at a FRI symposium.

This FRI experience is a work in progress. Students’ anonymous feedback highlights their resistance to working in teams and their difficulties with the free-form research-like model that we implemented. The challenge in the future will be to strike a balance between maintaining the authenticity of the research experience while giving students enough structure to make them comfortable.

  • IOWATER_ 2017 GSA pres.pdf (50.6 MB)