Evy Brunelle ~ Copy Editor
The University of Lynchburg celebrated student scholarship with Red Letter Day 2021 on April 7.
On Red Letter Day students present their research accomplishments to the entire university. Benjamin Heskett, a senior, did his project on groundwater monitoring in urban wetlands. He chose this project when he learned that the city of Lynchburg was planning to remove College Lake Dam.
“I began reading literature concerning dam removals and their hydrological and geomorphological effects on fluvial systems,” he said. “When I felt I had enough evidence to propose a research project, I contacted Dr. Laura Henry-Stone to see if there were any opportunities for students to study Blackwater Creek. She invited me to a meeting with Dr. Rob Atkinson from Christopher Newport University, a professor of ecohydrology, where we discussed the need for monitoring the depth to the saturation zone (water table) to support AECOM’s restoration design and to form a baseline sampling system for future ecological research.”
Heskett explained, “[My project is about] monitoring fluctuations in the water table over time to gain understanding of fundamental hydrological characteristics of a palustrine forested wetland upstream of College Lake adjacent to Blackwater Creek. Plus, there is a need for direct on-site monitoring of water-table via observation of hydraulic heads (water level in vented wells) through shallow groundwater wells for purposes of supporting AECOM’s restoration design, construction, and the success thereof.”
Continuing, he said, “In order to accomplish this, a team and I installed a transect of four wells across Blackwater Creek above College Lake Dam almost a year ago. Since July 2020, I have been taking depth to water table samples manually using a Solinst water level meter. Tye Mitchell started helping me sample in February 2021. [Also] recently, with funds from the Schewel Student-Faculty Research Fund, I purchased a submersible pressure transducer and deployed it in one of the wells to alleviate some issues associated with manually measuring wells and to create detailed hydrographs.”
Heskett mentioned, “[T]his work is foundational for future research. Fellow students, consider this an invitation! Monitoring the water-table offers many other primary or supporting research opportunities that would provide insight into Blackwater Creek’s hydrology and ecology. For instance, these data can be input into programs such as MODFLOW 6 where predictions of hydrological conditions can be calculated in response to such things as dam removals. Furthermore, given that dam removals are becoming increasingly common and not well studied this project and future research may support the efforts for understanding ecohydrological dynamics of impacts associated with dam removals in Piedmont physiographic province.”
Due to the pandemic, the research had to be presented virtually. Heskett explained that he was in a virtual room for an hour and a half. “I went over the details of the project with whoever dropped in,” he said.
Sophomore Arran Walton did his project on the spring phenology of Flowering Dogwood trees across campus. He explained that he and his three other project members studied this “in order to collect data that would expand a currently small database of Dogwoods in Virginia that helps predict the effects of climate change.”
Walton said, “[T]he project was a part of the honors natural resource stewardship class, and we had gathered enough data by April to present at the showcase.”
Lillian Smith, a junior, did her project on the outdoor water recreation camp with the James River Association. “The camp involved students aged 6 to 12 or 3rd to 8th grade. We would do events such as kayaking, canoeing, tubing, environmental education, and sustainable crafting,” she explained. “In my presentation I reflected on mostly the educational aspect that students learned during the weeklong camp. I also presented on leadership development and community connectivity achieved during the internship.”
Smith came about this project this past summer when she participated in an internship through the James River Association. She said, “To complete the credits for my internship course, I had to present on Red Letter Day. Presenting was a wonderful opportunity to prepare for next year where I will be presenting my senior thesis.”
Smith decided to do a verbal presentation, meaning that she was required to give a talk. “We were given 15 minutes to present but we needed to leave 2-3 minutes for questions, only truly allowing 12 minutes to present. Due to Covid regulations, all presentations were required to be virtual to allow as many people to attend as possible.”