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CU environmental program conducts Green River Academy with local high school students

CU environmental program conducts Green River Academy with local high school students.
Kessler teaches student Emily Rogers how to use different instruments to measure water flow. (CU Photo by Alexandria Swanger)
CU environmental program conducts Green River Academy with local high school students. 1
Students use nets to collect and analyze samples of freshwater organisms that reside in Russell Creek (CU Photo by Alexandria Swanger)
CU environmental program conducts Green River Academy with local high school students. 2
From left are: Front row- Anna Pinson (TCHS), Sue Dillery (TCHS), Andrew Beltz (TCHS). Middle row- Heaven Cooper (GCHS), Laura Cash (Green County), Peyton McCubbin (Taylor County), Back row- Dr. Richie Kessler, Mary Jo Hazel (CHS), Emily Rogers (CHS), Taybren Manners (GCHS). (CU Photo by Alexandria Swanger)

By Alexandria Swanger, communications assistant, Office of University Communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky.-      Most people complain about storms, but for a group of local high school students the rain arrived at the perfect time.

This summer Dr. Richie Kessler, an associate professor of biology/environmental studies program coordinator, at Campbellsville University, was able to conduct the first Green River Academy thanks to a watershed mini grant provided by the Kentucky Division of Water.

This academy allowed about 10 local high school students from Campbellsville, Taylor and Green County high schools to spend three days studying a variety of environmental science topics while accompanied by their science teachers. The focus was on analyzing the biodiversity of Green River and how humans create pollution and deal with it.

“This has been a long time in the making,” Kessler said. “The idea began with Joanna Ashford while she was still a student at Campbellsville University and after many years, we were finally able to make this happen.”

The grant enabled them to purchase equipment and supplies they utilized for various projects such as collecting samples, studying organisms and testing water turbidity and conductivity.

Over the course of the program, students and their teachers traveled throughout the region to numerous locations. Places like Mammoth Cave,Clay Hill Memorial Forest and Learning Center, the City of Campbellsville, Green River Dam, Russell Creek and the new Greensburg drinking water treatment plant, provided students with unique experiences as they were exposed to many of the different components of water pollution, filtration, biodiversity and the roles that humans play in each of these.

“It opened my eyes to the watershed we have in our own community and all the amazing things it has to offer, educationally and environmentally. I learned so many things and met many amazing people. I would recommend this Academy to any student who is interested in pursuing any career in the sciences. The resources obtained during this experience are limitless and I plan to use many of them in the future,” Heaven Cooper, a junior at Green County High School, said.

Despite being offset by severe storms, the group was able to use the rain to their advantage by taking notice firsthand of how storm water runoff affects the local waterways by washing pollution into streams from urban areas and development.

Kessler said he asked each teacher to select passionate students for the program from their classes so they could work more closely in a hands-on way with them and that he wanted local students so they would “learn about the things that share their backyards with them.”

Peyton McCubbin, a freshman at Taylor County High School, said, “I enjoyed getting to see my community in a way I never had before. I learned how vital the Green River watershed is to this community and the surrounding communities. It allowed me to make connections with peers from other schools in my community. One thing that really stuck out to me about this experience, is the importance of Green River to our community and the connectivity that the river creates between the counties of Central Kentucky.”

For most of the students involved, the Academy provided first-time experiences each day. They gained technical skills by using instruments and techniques in their field work used by professionals.

The Academy even gave one student the opportunity to visit Mammoth Cave for the first time.

“Green River Academy was a fantastic experience for me. We had the opportunity to get field experience, while learning from and working with Dr. Kessler,” Emily Rogers, a junior at Campbellsville High School, said. “One activity stood out to me the most was Mammoth Cave, It was my first time ever being in the cave, and we didn’t just go on a historical tour we went over the fences down to the water’s edge. That was incredible getting to see the cave from not just the historical value but also its value as a living environment.”

Kessler said he hopes to continue the program each year and to be able to inspire students to be involved in and care about their local ecosystems and communities.

Campbellsville University is a widely-acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with more than 10,000 students offering over 90 programs of study including 20 master’s degrees, six postgraduate areas and seven pre-professional programs. The university has off-campus centers in Kentucky cities Louisville, Harrodsburg, Somerset, Hodgenville and Liberty with instructional sites in Elizabethtown, Owensboro and Summersville, all in Kentucky, and one in Costa Mesa, Calif., and a full complement of online programs. The website for complete information is