By Emily Harris
Over the years, the Chester River waterfront has become an iconic part of a Washington College education. In an effort to make the local estuary even better known, the Center for Environment and Society (CES) developed the Chester River Watershed Observatory (CRWO) in just under three years.
Deputy Director of CES Dr. Doulas Levin said that the goal of the CRWO is to make the Chester River the best understood river in the nation, if not the world.
“We really want the Chester River to be celebrated,” said Levin. “What an incredible opportunity to take this waterfront, a clean slate…and develop it for our use with the school, with the students, and the town and the whole community.”
WC students and Chestertown residents may be familiar with the river through academic studies, athletics, or recreation, but the observatory targets a broader audience including school systems, research institutions, non-government organizations and federal agencies.
Ultimately, the program will encompass a network of buoys that will transmit water quality data to a website. In addition, there are educational aspects such as build-a-buoy, which helps students understand how to construct a buoy similar to the ones used for collecting data, and aquabots, which introduces teachers and students to underwater robot technology.
Students and faculty at WC are also welcome to use the CRWO as a resource. “The Center for Environment and Society…[wants] to incorporate all of campus on this, every professor” said Levin.
Intern Christina Ulrey worked with the CRWO during the summer, and agrees it can be used across all disciplines. “This data is not just for science. It’s also for social sciences and it’s for economics and business, and for thinking about how to teach,” Ulrey said. “So it can tie in with education, it can tie in with really anything as long as you can find the right spin on it.”
Education is a large part of what the CRWO is trying to accomplish, and development of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculums could provide opportunities not only for students in science majors, but education majors as well.
Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. is one institution that has engaged in the educational component of the watershed observatory. Levin said, “We’re working with them to take the STEM programs that we’re working with here and transfer them to other parts of the country. We’re doing the same thing in Florida with Gulf Coast University.”
Before these curriculums can be implemented, the teachers are provided with the knowledge and resources to bring these programs to their students.
“We take them to Millington to show them how clear the water is…it’s so cool to see that it’s so crystal clear up there and how it changes on the way down, and showing the teachers how that works,” said Levin.
Ulrey helped bring aquabots technology into classrooms by showing teachers how the underwater robots are built.
“The fact that you’re teaching teachers is this novel idea…it kind of seems daunting until you do it,” she said. “They’re there to learn, and it doesn’t seem to faze them that you’re not a degree holder or anything like that, which I found very interesting. They were always very curious and they seemed like they were getting a lot out of it, which was great.”
School systems as far away as California have expressed interest in adopting the technologies developed at CES. Over 700 seventh graders in Oxnard, Calif. were introduced to the same build-a-buoy technology that was brought to students in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties.
While school systems are welcome to use the technology provided by CES, they are not the only ones who can take advantage of these new programs.
Levin said, “We want what we’re doing here to be wholly integrated with what Sultana is doing, and Echo Hill, all the informal educators, all the NGOs, Chester River Association, the town, Chris Cerino.”
“As long as people know what kind of data is there, I think that it will become an obviously invaluable resource and I think people will be drawn to using it on their own,” said Ulrey.
This project has also created potential for the Chester River to become an addition to John Smith National Historic Trail on the Chesapeake, which is a water trail overseen by the National Park Service.
“It’s an exciting opportunity and we want this to be the next leg…of the John Smith Water Trail. Not just for the school, not for us, not for CES, but for the entire community” said Levin.
He also emphasized the importance of protecting the Chester River, describing water as “the most important commodity moving forward…we need to respect it, and this is the place that I want to do it.”