The Day1: Watershed program at Hope College has received the 2017 Watershed Stakeholder of the Year Award from the Macatawa Watershed Project of the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council (MACC).

The award, which honors efforts to improve the water quality of the Macatawa watershed, was presented on Thursday, Dec. 7, during the Macatawa Watershed Project’s annual meeting, held at Holland City Hall.

“We are thrilled to have an innovative program like Day1 involved in our watershed,” said Kelly Goward, watershed project manager with the MACC. “The students’ work is gathering valuable data that will help inform our future management decisions. Beyond their work in the lab, we also greatly appreciate that Day1 students have taken the time to participate in some of our volunteer activities.”

Day1: Watershed is a year-long program that engages freshmen in conducting research regarding the health of the 175-square-mile Macatawa watershed by measuring sediment run-off, the presence of nutrients such as phosphorus, and E. Coli contamination.  The students move to campus a week early and conduct research full-time, collecting and analyzing water samples even before classes begin — thus the “Day1” in the program name.  They continue their work and studies during the school year through a laboratory course and First-Year Seminar course.  Day1: Watershed is also a research community, with the students living in the same residence hall.

Faculty mentors who work with the students include Dr. Aaron Best, who is the Harrison C. and Mary L. Visscher Professor of Genetics; Dr. Brent Krueger, professor of chemistry and Schaap Research Fellow; and Dr. Michael Pikaart, associate professor of chemistry.  The overall Day1 program, which includes five different initiatives featuring a variety of themes, is directed by Dr. Catherine Mader, professor of physics.

“This recognition is significant in that we really want to show students that the research projects that they’re working on do impact the community,” Best said.  “To have outside recognition from the community helps validate that.”

Day1: Watershed is in its third year, but research at Hope into the health of the local watershed goes back some 20 years.  Former faculty member Dr. Graham Peaslee, who received the Stakeholder of the Year Award in 2005, began studying the watershed in the latter 1990s.  In 2011, Hope researchers led by Peaslee and Pikaart became part of a multi-organization study of the watershed funded through a major grant to the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway (a 2012 stakeholder honoree) from a group of private donors.  Best and PIkaart continue to integrate study of the watershed into their ongoing research programs.  In addition, students in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences’  Advanced Topics in Environmental Science course often focus on the system in their independent research projects.

“Day1: Watershed builds on a rich history,” Best said.  “It phase-shifts the work that’s come before into a project that’s examining the different problems in the watershed together, trying to understand whether or not their connected, and gathering solid information so that informed decisions can be made about cleaning up problem areas.”

In addition to Watershed, the Day1 programs at Hope are: EDGE, in which engineering students work on a project for a community customer; Great Lakes, focused on the endangered Pitcher’s thistle plant species and other ecological considerations; Michigan Rocks, a field geology experience in northern Michigan; and Phage Discovery, in which students isolate, characterize and name a phage bacterium that they discover.  More information about all of them is available online.  The Watershed page includes a three-minute video that provides an overview of the program including reflections by students.