Forward Thinking

Spring 2015 Issue

Student and Faculty Researchers Set Out to Save the Susquehanna

The Susquehanna River is the longest river on the East Coast, stretching from upstate New York to the Chesapeake Bay. In 2011, it topped American Rivers’ list as the most endangered river in the country. By last year, the Susquehanna had fallen from the Top-10 list, but there is plenty of work left to be done before the river will be considered healthy, and researchers at Susquehanna are doing their part to help it heal.

At the heart of this work is freshwater ecologist Jonathan Niles, program director of the three-year Freshwater Research Initiative, which is funded by a $2.25 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The initiative seeks to gather critical data about the river system for public outreach programs.

Niles and faculty colleagues in biology, chemistry and earth and environmental sciences-Jack Holt, Carlos Iudica, Ahmed Lachhab and Lou Ann Tom-and their undergraduate research assistants are continuing and expanding research projects on the health of this important ecosystem as part of the initiative.

Niles even mentors a group of student researchers, several of whom conduct field studies with him over the summer. For at least one of those students, the experience has been life-changing.

Dan Isenberg ’16 was only in his first year at Susquehanna when Niles approached him about getting involved in the research. At the time, he intended to become an ophthalmologist. Now, in his junior year, Isenberg has found that the river has changed his course.

“Now, in my third year of doing this research, I have changed my career path and plan to get a Ph.D. in ichthyology [the study of fish],” Isenberg says. The opportunity to conduct research at such an early point in his college career opened his eyes to a career he had never before considered.

The Mellon grant has not only increased opportunities for students to conduct research, it will soon provide them with a full analytical laboratory at Susquehanna’s Center for Environmental Education and Research (CEER), located along the western border of campus on Sassafras Street. The facility will include two lab rooms and a large research area, office space and a study lounge, giving initiative partners ample room to pursue their findings.

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