DALLAS—Students in geology environmental science at Brookhaven College are working with the city of Farmers Branch looking at outfalls and debris in Farmers Branch Creek near the campus.
The collaboration with the city started in fall 2017 and was renewed for spring 2018 allowing students to embrace learning opportunities outside the traditional classroom setting. This experience of learning through community involvement reflects the Brookhaven College values of service and dedication to student success.
"Collaborating with Brookhaven College on this project has been great," said Katy Evans, public health manager for the city of Farmers Branch. "We appreciate this opportunity to share information and experience in a mutually beneficial way."
Evans said the students perform screenings to determine if illegal dumping is occurring. They look at dry weather outfall where storm water empties through large concrete pipes. Evans said if there has been no rain, then in theory, there should be nothing coming out of the pipes except run off from irrigation or perhaps from the washing of cars.
The students go to a location twice, 8-24 hours apart when it hasn't rained. If the students don't observe anything on the first check but there is discharge on the second check, there could be illegal dumping or illicit discharge. While the city continues to perform the required screenings, the supplemental student observations provide additional information to assist with pollution reduction and prevention.
The class performed visual screenings, pH testing and documented measurements in the fall term. The project was renewed for spring with the goal of taking what was learned in the previous semester and building on that for pollution reduction and prevention. So, in addition to the visual screenings, it was expanded to look at floatables, any litter that makes its way into the storm sewer system.
"The parks department collects park litter and every two weeks they take a couple of bags for the class to go through to inventory the floatables," Evans said. "The students sort the litter into different categories to determine the source. They play detective with the trash."
The students make recommendations to the city based on their findings to help the city reduce or eliminate the problem. At the end of the fall term, after submitting their report, the mayor issued certificates of appreciation to the students.
"The students are learning about real world applications of environmental science while gathering data to share with the city. In turn, Farmers Branch will utilize this information to help determine where to focus pollution prevention efforts," Evans said.
Taking the classroom into the field gives students a unique view of how the things people do can impact the environment and how scientists investigate to come up with answers.
Real-world experience is the cornerstone in the teaching approach of environmental science instructor, Fred Busche, Ph.D.
"The point that I try to get across to my students at the end of almost every class is that we need to realize that Earth is the only planet in the universe that we know of, where intelligent life exists and maybe any life" Busche said. "They are the future and we need their help to protect the environment such that life will continue to exist on our planet."