Day after day Andrew Docter watches grass grow. But far from being bored, Docter is immersed in real research, which has scientific and economic ramifications.
“I never thought I’d say this, but I can understand why people find it relaxing to water the lawn,” jokes Docter, a 19-year-old freshman from Markesan. He’s also come to realize that having the lush, green lawn that so many of us want, is a challenge.
It’s called the Freshman Experience and it’s a one-credit course that gives select University of Wisconsin-Green Bay students the opportunity to immediately begin research, rather than wait until their junior or senior year of college.
The project Docter is working on is a collaboration between UW-Green Bay and ENCAP, LLC, a firm just minutes from campus, which mixes residuals from paper mills with polymers to promote the growth of grass and flowers while preventing excessive sediment and nutrient runoff. The firm has developed a national reputation for its efforts to repurpose what has historically been a waste product into something that is environmentally beneficial. It has also cultivated a partnership with the University, as a number of its employees and researchers are current or former students.
Docter earned one academic credit for his research. Now he is paid a stipend by ENCAP to actually conduct the study.
In a climate control room in the Laboratory Sciences building at UW-Green Bay, Docter is raising different grass seed mixtures and carefully documenting that growth. The idea is to find out which mixtures thrive best in constant conditions.
“I’m growing mixtures of turf grass in a set of trays. Each tray receives 14 hours of daylight and the same amount of water,” he said. “I spend a lot of my time counting blades of grass to determine the germination rate.”
Docter, who plans to obtain majors in Environmental Science and biology, began his work in the fall semester by establishing a protocol — a plan that could produce meaningful and measurable results. And results that could be replicated. It was work that required a bit of extra guidance from faculty and ENCAP staff.
“It takes some effort, but our goal is to nurture the best and brightest,” said Associate Prof. John Katers (Natural and Applied Sciences), who serves as Docter’s faculty adviser for the research project.
“Once you meet Andrew you understand that he’s quite capable. He’s very mature for his age,” said Jeff Rindfleisch, ENCAP vice president of operations and research and development. “The research that we’re doing is product development and we have a lot of confidence in Andrew and UW-Green Bay.”
Docter’s first experience with the University came when he was a high school student and was involved in the annual Watershed Symposium, which is sponsored by the Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program at UW-Green Bay.
“When I was in high school and expressed an interest in environmental science and biology, I had a teacher who said ‘you’re crazy to look anywhere else,’” Docter said. “He was right, I absolutely love it here. I love the fact that I go to school on a campus that has walking trails and the Cofrin Arboretum.”