Watershed moment: Fox River program offers hands-on learning for high schools

Since 2003, the Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program has provided high school students and teachers with hands-on experience in assessing the health of aquatic ecosystems in Northeastern Wisconsin. Teams of students perform a variety of monitoring activities in selected watersheds of the Lower Fox River Basin, using trained teachers and standardized methods to collect quality assured data. These data are shared on the project website and at the annual Student Watershed Symposium, held at UW-Green Bay each spring. Here’s what those involved have to say about the project:

Associate Prof. Kevin Fermanich
Project Director, Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program:

“The watershed monitoring project started in 2003, and it was a partnership with UW-Milwaukee and Arjo Wiggins Incorporated and UWGB and the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity. So the idea was to engage local high school students and other professionals in monitoring in the Lower Fox River Watershed.”

“The students obviously learn about water quality, and how watersheds function and the impact of land-use activities and human activities on water quality. The idea that the students are able to work within an area that’s close to their home, and someplace they can identify with, is really important for understanding the connection between human activity and water quality. And we’ve now been doing this since 2003, so the data they’ve been collecting starts to tell us a story about how things change, and the conditions in the watershed over a longer period of time.”

Delaney Cairns
Junior, Green Bay Southwest High School

“It got me a lot of hands-on experience, which was really nice because it sort of led me to know what I wanted to do as a career. I hope to study hydrology, which is — I want to study how the water is interacting with the human behavior and the animal population — and hopefully some conservation.”

“The students are monitoring biotic indicators, such as macroinvertebrates in the stream, which indicate how much oxygen’s in the stream and other pollutants — also chemical parameters such as nitrogen, phosphorous, conductivity, PH, things like that. And they also measure the flow and habitat characteristics in the stream.

“This experience is just priceless, because I can honestly know what I’m — know some of the tests that I’m doing, instead of just doing lab reports inside a classroom, and actually get outside and work with some scientists.”

“One of the things that we’ve been really pleased to observe is that quite a few of the students become interested in environmental science and biology, and just science in general. And we have had a number of students that were high school students in the program at various high schools in the region that have come to UW-Green Bay, either to study environmental science, biology, chemistry — those types of majors.”

Andrew Docter, UW-Green Bay junior
Past program participant

“I really enjoyed it, because it got me outside a little bit more and it showed me a whole different, I guess, avenue of work — because I had no idea that working in the field like that was an option. … It pretty much lined exactly up with the things that I’m doing now.”

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