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August 4, 2019

St. Francis College Science Students Monitor Local Water Quality

St. Francis College Science Students

When college students say they're spending the summer at the shore, that typically means surfing or sunbathing. For a group of St. Francis College students, however, it means conducting potentially health-protecting biological research.

Working in collaboration with Dr. Victoria Ruiz, Assistant Professor of Biology and Health Promotion, a team of six undergraduates and one recent grad signed on for a 20-week project to monitor the quality of local waterways.

St. Francis College is one of 11 partner labs in the New York City Water Trail Association's annual Citizens Water Quality Testing (CWQT) Program.

Each week, the students test water they collect from the East River as well as other samples submitted by CWQT citizen volunteers from sites around the city. They measure levels of potentially harmful contents, including Enterococcus, a waterborne bacterium that can be dangerous at high levels.

"This water quality testing is not only for us, for our experience, but also for public health because people go kayaking, swimming and everything there," said Mumina Nazarzoda, a Brooklyn College undergraduate who is part of the St. Francis team. "That's why we are testing, to see if it's healthy to be there."

St. Francis' data is included in CWQT's weekly, publicly-available spreadsheet revealing of the relative hazards of local water sites.

"These places are open to the community," added Joshlyn Mensah '22. "It's very traumatic if there's high levels of these bacteria because it's very damaging to our health."

The students work two days a week, spending one day in the field collecting samples and a second day performing analysis.

"We have different tasks" once samples are in the lab, explained Karishma Kalloo '20. "The part that I do is look for certain chemicals of the water. We put a probe in the sample, and it'll give out a reading of a certain ion we're looking for, or a characteristic of the water that we're looking at, and those numbers will be recorded."

The students say their work is not only helping the public, but is preparing them for graduate school, a goal they all share.

"I graduated two months ago, so I'm doing this for the experience because I want to go into grad school next year for microbiology," said Mariah Allen '19. "This would be a good opportunity for me, just so I can see what I'm prepared to go into."

The students began the research in May, at the invitation of Dr. Ruiz who recruited each to take part in the CWQT Program as a co-curricular, non-credit undertaking. The team will share some of its findings at the Metropolitan Association of College and University Biologists Conference in October.

"The goal of this work is to expose students to research, both as scientists and stewards for the environment embracing social justice, while honing their analytical and critical thinking skills," said Dr. Ruiz. "In addition to the water quality our students are assessing the levels of enterococci and overall alterations in microbial communities in the water and assessing any potential antibiotic resistance genes present in the microbial community."

Under the direction of the Biology Department chair Dr. Kathleen Nolan, St. Francis College students contributed to the CWTQ Program in prior years by collecting water samples and depositing them at another lab for testing. Dr. Ruiz joined the project last year, and St. Francis now also functions as one of the labs providing analysis.

Anyone can take part in the CWTQ Program as citizen scientists, if they have curiosity, critical analysis skills and a concern about local water. They can collect water samples and the St. Francis College team will analyze them.

The students involved in the water-quality research are (majors in parentheses):

  • Mariah Allen '19 (Biology)
  • Marinha Domingues '20 (Biology)
  • Karishma Kalloo '20 (Chemistry)
  • Marjona Mardonova '22 (Biology)
  • Joshlyn Mensah '22 (Biology)
  • Mumina Nazarzoda '23 Brooklyn College (Biology)
  • Daniel Pintor '21 (Biology)

To learn more about the CWQT Project, contact Dr. Ruiz ([email protected]).

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