All semester long at SUNY New Paltz, a certain tide has been rising. Flowing through the course work of roughly 200 undergraduates of all disciplines — including science, art and sociology — has been an investigation of water.
Students did everything from testing local waterways, looking at how rain reacts to porous pavement on campus versus traditional blacktop. Art students created rain barrels and survival guides either made from or inspired by nature.
For KT Tobin, the associate director of SUNY’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach, the “Water at SUNY New Paltz Symposium” is helping start a much-needed conversation about water use and climate change. While scientists, social scientists and educators have been talking about increased flooding and Superstorm Sandy, they’re doing so within the “silo” of their own discipline.
“We need to talk to each other,” Tobin said. “We need to talk to each other — together — not separately.”
For instance, Caitlyn Maceli, a junior studying environmental geochemical science, spent her time this year creating a project to test rainfall events in the ponds on campus — which are connected to the Wallkill River’s watershed.
David Richardson, an assistant professor who mentored Maceli on the project, said he thought it was important for students to get thinking about how their actions impacted water on campus — and beyond.
“It was nice because we were able to bring some ecological theories and ideas they were talking about in class into the lab — and understand their direct impacts and how they play a role in the ecology on campus,” Richardson said.
Sociology students approached their projects, understandably, from a different angle. They tested people’s stated environmental beliefs against their practices.
“Water at SUNY New Paltz” specifically studied the Saw Mill Brook, a tributary of the Wallkill. At least ten professors and about 200 students participated in the multidisciplinary project. It’s one part of a much larger initiative — the Hudson Estuary Watershed Resiliency Project, which is a partnership between Cornell Cooperative Extension and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Funding for the project came from a $219,434 curriculum infusion, which allowed faculty to buy supplies — “including a water-testing buoy and supplies,” Tobin explained. Other funds went to help put green infrastructure in place to improve “watershed resilience” in the Saw Mill Brook.
Overall, the Hudson Estuary Resilience Project is aimed at getting people educated about the perils of increased flooding and weather disturbances related to climate change. In the face of Irene, Lee and Sandy, they want to create strategies to help combat that problem.
Matthew Friday, the graduate coordinator for the college’s art department, noted that they also looked at the Fallkill Creek in Poughkeepsie as a project area.
In partnership with the Children’s Media Project, SUNY New Paltz Art Department grad students studied the ecology of the Fallkill watershed and walked the creek with the high school students.
“So to physically interact and engage with it, rather than talking about it in the abstract or making pretty paintings of it, but to actually go there and say, ‘We’re going to encounter this site physically before we really care about it,’” Friday said.
The grad students and high schoolers foraged for edible foods to create a meal. Before the first bite of the forest-grown salad greens, they were skeptical.
“Once they got out there and did it, they loved it,” he said.
That wasn’t all they did though.
“We created this urban forager guide. So this is all made of locally sourced ingredients. The paper is locally sourced. The ink is black walnuts. It’s literally ‘of the place,’” Friday said. The guidebook itself describes how to find edible foods locally.
To learn more about the Fallkill art project, watch this video on YouTube.
To learn more about the Hudson Estuary Watershed Resiliency Project, head to https://climatechange.cornell.edu/hudson-estuary-watershed-resiliency-project/.
To see what’s going on at SUNY New Paltz, head to www.newpaltz.edu.