Ecological Study within our small CountyBy: Joe Prempeh '06
The Honors council, under the directorship of Professor Alexander J. Werth, Elliott Associate Professor of Biology, has successfully completed its summer research/internship program for the 2003/2004 academic year. Students worked with professors from the departments of chemistry, economics, history, physics, biology, political science, psychology, and religion. Inside the DuPont Room, FCCI of Eggleston Library, all of the students presented a speech report about their research. The Honors Council, over the years, has encouraged students to undertake research in fields that interest them most.
In response to the Council's encouragements, Phuntsho Norbu, a junior and an economics-commerce major, set his eyes on Briery Creek. Although it is not common for a student to take up research from outside his department, Phuntsho "couldn't let the opportunity slip by." Phuntsho's contribution to the environment is seen in his ten-week research on the Briery Creek, which lies within the Prince Edward County. He sees the research study as one that would create a base for his higher studies in the field of environment planning and community development.
Under the auspices of the Biology Department of Hampden-Sydney College, Phuntsho was able to keep his eyes on the Briery Creek through a research dubbed, A baseline study of Briery Creek Watershed water quality management. "Because I was born and raised in one of the ten global ecological hotspots-Bhutan, it comes with no effort that I value nature. I vividly remember the slogan, 'Nurture Nature, Save the Future,' which was phrased by our King, displayed before the main courtyard of my high school. (The slogan is adorned by almost every school in Bhutan). Since my time in high school, the phrase has been embedded within my conscience. I realized that the research would, particularly, give me a head start to help spread the message of sustainable environment, and how vulnerable our earth is," Phuntsho opines.
Phuntsho's desire to help "nurture nature" was materialized when Dr. Stanley Gemborys proposed a study on water quality management. The main objective of the study was to create a preliminary database for long-term water quality management project on Briery Creek Watershed. Phuntsho worked assiduously under the supervision of Dr. Maria Carolina Yaber of the Biology Department. The research, Phuntsho says, "involved mostly field work." It also entailed working at the Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District (PSWCD) in Farmville, where Alecia Daves guided me as well."
During the study, Phuntsho tested the quality of Briery Creek and collated the information. The data was then added to an already exiting data from earlier tests with the aid of a desktop mapping program called ArcView GIS (Geographical Information System). Through the research, Phuntsho acquainted himself with the computer program. The ArcView GIS program makes it easy for people to interpret complex data results with ease. "The experience," Phuntsho says, "is simply marvelous and unbeatable." Although Phuntsho enjoyed his study, he admits that "the research was fun though not all that smooth." "Dedication, he says, is the key to such projects."
The Biology Department and the Honors Council encourage students to undertake similar studies that they are passionate about. Through such studies, students can learn how to write proposals, how to conduct independent research under a supervisor, and especially how to present research findings to the general public. As more and more students express their desire in environmental science, the Biology Department remains open to whoever would like to conduct similar research.
In fact, Phuntsho expresses his willingness to conduct further research on the environment that will benefit the community and fulfill his own intellectual curiosity. "Ever since I was briefly exposed to ArcView GIS two years ago, I wanted to learn more about it. I decided then that my career wouldn't be complete without being able to work with it. The research gave me the opportunity to revisit the program with a more practical meaning. The vigor remains. The research, practically, taught me how everything is seriously dependent on each other. I guess one has to experience this interdependence to thoroughly submit to the belief."
"What excites me is that I will most likely be the first one to start such water monitoring study in Bhutan," Phuntsho concludes.
Funding for this project was provided by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges.