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Testing the Waters - Page 2


Yellow water
Seeing Science: Megan Giese, a student beach monitor, holds a sample of the beach water collected at Sunset Beach in Sturgeon Bay.

On the Job

The four-member beach monitor team in Sturgeon Bay had little time to adjust to a new job in a new town. Whitman and fellow monitors Ryan Fochs, Marvi Verma and Megan Giese work like the proverbial well-oiled machine. They each have their own assignments. They know who gets what beaches, how many times they have to check them.

Woman pouring water
Lab Work: Marvi Verma at the lab in Sturgeon Bay.

Even though their instructors are 70 minutes away, no one slacks off. They laugh at the thought. Ludicrous. (Besides, McDermott is constantly monitoring the EPA website to see the daily data input and e-mailing and texting the young scientists.)

“We have a job to do,” Whitman says simply.

Giese says no one could just blow off work because that would mean someone else would have to add to his or her already heavy load. She recounts the day she missed her scheduled return ferry from Washington Island, where she was testing the beach water. That timing error didn’t excuse her from the rest of the beach duties. She still had to head out to the other beaches to collect water samples, and she had to take them back to the lab to test them that night. “That was a really long day,” she says, smiling resignedly.

Both Giese and Whitman agree that the hard work is worth it. Whitman hopes to get a job in the microbiology field. “I love science, obviously,” she says. “I consider myself a lab rat.”

Public Service
A Public Service: Ryan Fochs, a student beach monitor, collects samples to make sure the beaches are safe for visitors.

Prior to landing the internship in Sturgeon Bay, Whitman had worked as a cashier at a drugstore. “This is way better than saying, ‘Oh, would you to try a Snicker’s Bar today?’ Here, I’m impacting the  scientific world in that I’m helping the people who live here.”

Fochs grew up in nearby Egg Harbor, Wis., only about 20 minutes away from the lab.  “I had no idea that (the beach monitoring program) was here and that it was going on literally right outside my door. It’s definitely a public service.”

Hands-on Learning

All the students praise the field work aspect of learning. “Hands-on learning is tops in my book,” says Fochs, a biology major.

Whitman says classroom lessons come to life when she puts her hands in the beach water, collects the samples, walks on the sand and watch the tides come in and out. For  instance, Whitman learned about  e-coli in the digestive tracts of animals in Dr. Kleinheinz’s  bacteriology course, but she was able to see it for herself when she tested water that had bird waste in it. “That just reinforces what we learn,” she says.

Beach monitor Marvi Verma says that working in Sturgeon Bay site has made her a better scientist.  “I am learning on my own,” says Verma, who is majoring in biology/pre-med. “Most of the assignments we have in lab, we kind of know what we can expect.”

Not so when working in the real word. “Here, we collect water, go back to the lab to look at the results. They are different everyday,” Verma says. “We try to think, ‘What happened yesterday that the results are like this today? Did it rain yesterday? Were there a lot of people on the beach?’ I’m always thinking how did  we come to this number today, so (being out here) has really enhanced my learning.”