From Costa Rica to New York City, the Stroud Water Research Center has had a great impact on water conservation efforts. But some of the center's most important work is being done right at its base in Chester County.Here, a new group of aspiring scientists is being trained. According to Bern Sweeney, president of the center, Stroud has always had interns, but until the mid-1990s, only one or two interns were offered positions. This year, the scientists at Stroud are working with 25 interns, mostly college students.
Sweeney explained the application process. He said the interns come from across the country and are selected from a pool of applicants, which gets bigger every year.
The applicants typically choose a specific program to work in, such as organic geochemistry or ecosystems, and are evaluated on academic performance and previous lab experience. Once they have been accepted to the program, the interns work with Stroud researchers and doctoral students on a specific project.
For example, Neva Cockrell, a current organic geochemistry intern at Stroud, is collaborating with senior researcher Louis Kaplan. She is monitoring the relationship between nitrate levels in local streams and overall water quality. Nitrate levels are often unnaturally high in Chester County due to their use in fertilizer. This surplus has a damaging effect on local streams and rivers, as nitrates encourage the growth of algae.
Cockrell's specific research is part of a larger effort to monitor local water quality, a goal that involves every intern from every discipline, and evidence of their work is everywhere on the Stroud compound. Cockrell recently installed piezometers, sampling devices with tubes that look like spaghetti, in the nearby Wite Clay Creek.
A few hundred feet away, a group of interns studying ecosystems had set up an artificial stream to monitor nocturnal animal activity and how it contributes to water quality. Inside the main building, a group of students were intently examining mayfly larvae.
Everywhere around the center a new and unique project is being undertaken. Interns said the experience has been invaluable, since they are mostly confined to using science textbooks during the school year. "What's been most exciting for me has been the ability to focus on one particular process, and getting really familiar with it," said Cockrell. She added that she has also been introduced to new equipment and sampling techniques.
"It's an experience that you don't get in the classroom," said Mike Broomall, a staff entomologist who started as an intern. Often, the interns will receive college credit for their internships, and a good review from their mentors could be the key to landing a good job later. But the experience doesn't just benefit the interns. According to Liz Brooking, director of communications and marketing at Stroud, "Our research staff doubles during the summer." Also, the interns' projects need to be approved by both the senior Stroud researchers and grant donors, such as the National Science Foundation. This process ensures that Stroud's mission statement, "Advancing Stewardship Through Education," is being followed. Encouraging stewardship is an important goal in today's world, where suburban sprawl and industrialization threaten our watersheds.
Brooking concluded, "Water quality is essential to our way of life." With programs like Stroud's internships, a new generation is getting the tools necessary to protecting it.