Aquatic creatures were on display at River Park North April 20 during an environmental symposium that featured ECU faculty and students. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

ECU experts help youth understand water quality

April 24, 2015

By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services

Scott Jones, a doctoral candidate at East Carolina University, spent Monday showing middle and high school students different types of aquatic insects and telling them about his research of population and community ecology.

“It’s good to show kids the stuff that’s out there, see things they’re not usually doing and see science is accessible,” he said. “It’s not just people in lab coats in a lab somewhere.”
ECU doctoral student Scott Jones, left, shows students aquatic insects during an environmental symposium Monday at River Park North in Greenville.

Jones was among the ECU faculty, staff and students who participated in the Neuse River Guardians Environmental Symposium on Monday at River Park North. The program aimed to teach students from public and private middle and high schools in Pitt, Greene, Lenoir, Wayne and Wake counties about pollution, wildlife, algae, water quality and other environmental issues.

Approximately 225 students attended.

Faculty members Jamie DeWitt, an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology; Eban Bean, an assistant professor of engineering; and Mike O’Driscoll, assistant professor of geological sciences; and graduate students and lab personnel spoke with students and showed them their work related to water quality.

The event was hosted by the Love a Sea Turtle organization as part of Earth Day and Environmental Education Week. L.A.S.T., as the group is known, has grown from an 8-year-old Winterville girl’s idea into a water-quality organization with student members in several schools.

The group impressed State Farm enough that the insurance company gave it $100,000 to form the State Farm Youth Advisory Board and equip participating schools with instruments to collect and analyze water samples.

O’Driscoll said the extra hands help monitor pollution in the state’s 30,000 miles of rivers and streams.
Brandon Standley, a student at Kinston High School, asks a question during a presentation by ECU professors Jamie DeWitt and Eban Bean.

“They get science experience, and it also really helps the state,” O’Driscoll said. “It’s really neat the students are getting a dose of science about water resources before they even get to college.”

Leah Connell, a biology instructor at Wayne Community College who received her master’s degree from ECU in 2005, is the science director for L.A.S.T.

“This program exposes kids from all around the Neuse River Basin to issues of the river and pollution and exposes them to real scientific tests,” she said. “They’re seeing actual science.”

Brandon Standley, 16, a Kinston High School student, has participated in the LAST program since October. “I’ve learned a lot about what we do to our rivers,” he said. He’s looking at ECU as a college choice and hopes to pursue a career in biology.

Experts and representatives from local and state agencies, organizations and businesses also participated.

L.A.S.T. was begun by Casey Sokolovic, now a senior at D.H. Conley High School, after a 2005 school field trip to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Topsail Beach sparked her interest in the environment.

Pictured below, Jamie DeWitt, ECU assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, speaks during the Neuse River Guardians Environmental Symposium April 20 at River Park North.