“All of this field work with lab-style equipment is amazing. I want to go into medicine, so it’s very helpful.”
Seth Springer wades into the cool lagoon in camouflage overalls, a glass vial in hand. The Fremont native is in Nebraska’s windswept Sandhills, investigating the largely unknown biochemistry of several of the region’s alkaline lakes. According to Springer’s adviser – DWFI Faculty Affiliate and University of Nebraska at Kearney biology professor Julie Shaffer – their project will, for the first time, establish baselines for health, biodiversity, invasive species and restoration of eight lakes in Brown County. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission wants to use these lakes for fish farming and angling and as experimental sites for controlling invasive species, which led them to Shaffer.
In August 2014, the Water for Food Institute awarded its inaugural round of student support grants to faculty fellows. The grants provide stipends to students like Springer who are working on projects that contribute to a more water and food secure world. For Springer, a freshman biology major, this means getting his hands wet in the field and in the lab. “Almost all of these tests that we’re doing – pH, phosphorous, etc. – I’ve never done any of these. I get to do some (tests) in the lab, which is very, very nice because I actually get some lab experience and I’m a freshman and barely had any lab experience.”
Springer will return to the lakes next spring and summer to continue his abiotic sampling. And thanks to Shaffer’s support, he says he’ll do so with more self-assurance. “Without her, I probably would have broken down and quit the first day in the lab because of all of the equipment. She has given me a lot of confidence in the lab.”
“It’s more than just research in a class. It’s learning the ecosystem in Nebraska, the health of these lakes and helping the ranchers to manage their properties. I think it’s a great opportunity that they have due to the Water for Food Institute in being able to be part of a bigger process and understanding of what’s happening in Nebraska.”
– DWFI Faculty Fellow Julie Shaffer, on her students’ research