August 29, 2016, BY Benjamin Hayes

Exploring aquatic life in a local stream.

The Watershed Sciences and Engineering Program is devoted to connecting faculty, staff, and students to the Susquehanna watershed by creating new teaching, research, and outreach opportunities. WSE faculty are add new, field-based lectures and labs to their existing courses, where students connect the concepts and theory to an actual stream, wetland, lake, or section of the river. The subject becomes more relavent, more tangible, and understanding is enriched in these types of settings. The WSE Program also developed three university-wide field intensive watershed-based courses, where most of the learning takes place outdoors or in the research lab. Connecting faculty and students to the watershed through scholarship is a major component of the WSE Program. To promote this type of research, is is establishing and instrumenting a network of long-term field research sites encompassing a range of environments, including wetlands, streams, lakes, and the Susquehanna River itself. Through a variety of grants and scholarships, WSE faculty typically mentor ten to fifteen undergraduate students every summer on projects including flow hydraulics and sediment transport, stream restoration, catchment hydrology and modeling, fluvial geomorphology and aquatic ecology studies.

It began a decade ago, when we asked ourselves "How can we expect someone to care about rivers, lakes, forests, and wetlands, if they have had no personal experience with these environments?" Endangered species, critical habitats, biodiversity, sustainability, natural disasters - though we introduce these concepts to every student at Bucknell, they remain abstract, intangible, and foreign to many. Our goal is to create transformative learning experiences that bridge the gap between our minds and our hearts, to make learning come alive, and to create an outdoor classroom environment where students can laugh, learn, and work together.

On-The-Water Connections

The WSE Program owns a fleet of kayaks and canoes that it uses to offer guided teaching sojourns on the Susquehanna River, as well as a number of larger streams and lakes in the region. We occasionally lead extended trips to the lower Susquehanna River gorge, the Susquehanna Flats and saltwater marshes along the Chesapeake Bay.

Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Dr. Neil Boyd, Professor of Management, leads his students enrolled in the class "Managing for Sustainability" (MSUS 300) on a trip down the West Branch of the Susquehanna, to explore water quality and quantity issues facing industries and communities along the river and discuss new models for managing these resources sustainably.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Dr. Elizabeth Capaldi, Professor of Biology, leads her Animal Behavior (ANBE 320) students on a trip down the West Branch of the Susquehanna, partly to bond with one another at the start of the semester and partly to introduce the students to the mighty Susquehanna and get a glimpse of its fascinating ecology and aquatic life.

The WSE Program's flagship interdisciplinary course is "Bucknell on the Susquehanna" a 3-week field intensive experience where students spend the first half exploring the Susquehanna watershed, all the way from its headwaters in New York down the Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary. In the second half of the course, they travel to the Olympic Penninsula and Puget Sound, to compare and contrast the two watersheds.

Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Bucknell-On-The-Susquehanna students learn about oyster farming and health of the Chesapeake Bay as they sail on a Skipjack, a traditional sailboat used in the Chesapeake Bay for commercial oyster dredging.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Bucknell-On-The-Susquehanna students traverse a saltwater marsh to learn how the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) is conducting long-term studies on greenhouse gas emissions and ecology of these complex wetland systems.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
for the past ten years, Dr. Matthew McTammany, associate professor of biology, has been working with students to explore many different aspects related to the aquatic ecology, hydrology, and health of the Susquehanna River and its tributaries.

Under-The-Water Connections

The WSE Program includes professional staff with professional scuba diving experience and equipment, who help faculty and students on research projects that involve complicated and potentially dangerous work in underwater settings in lakes, reservoirs, and fast-flowing rivers. A number of studies are underway to map the fluvial geomorphology and aquatic habitat of the Susquehanna and several of its larger tributaries. Students get to snorkel and dive the pools and riffles of these streams to map beforms, characterize the habitat, and collect mussel, hellbender, and invertebrate samples.

The river takes on an entire new look and feel when you are underwater. Students get to study up close endangered or threatened animals such as hellbenders or freshwater mussels, in their native habitat.

An otter's view up the West Branch of the Susquehanna River on a hot September afternoon.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Bucknell biology students dive the pools and riffles on the North Branch of the Susquehanna River to study crayfish and freshwater mussel populations as part of a SeaGrant-funded research project.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Sean Reese, an aquatic scientist with the WSE Program guides students on a scuba-diving excursion to map bedforms on the bed of the Susquehanna River.

In-Stream Connections

There exists a complex hydrologic and ecologic connection between the Susquehanna and its tributaries, which are like the river's network of blood vessels, delivering water, nutrients and acting as the corridor for migration of plants and animals.

Little is known about this connections, but we have learned over the years that the best for students and faculty to study these processes and linkages is to wade into the streams and get their feet wet.

Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Trips to streams draining abandoned coal mines in the anthracite fields near Shamokin, Pennsylvania offer a chance for students to learn about the geochemistry of AMD and remediation strategies used to reclaim and restore these areas of the watershed.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
There is no better way for students to learn about aquatic life and the river continuum concept than to make the field be the classroom.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Students traditionally learned about water chemistry and river water quality in the lecture hall, but these concepts come alive when they paddle out onto the river and learn how to use instruments to collect and log the water quality readings themselves.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Dr. Richard Crago, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, helped install a solar-powered stream gaging station on Miller Run near the entrance to campus, teaching the students how streams are gaged and then using the data they collected throughout the semester. Professor Crago and other faculty are re-tooling portions of their class to adop this real-world, hands-on approach to teaching watershed hydrology.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
The campus of Bucknell also acts as a living-learning laboratory. Here Carolyn Breeden, a Civil and Environmental Engineering student, sets up an ISCO automatic sampler to collect samples of stormwater runoff flowing through Miller Run, the small stream that flows the Bucknell campus. She later used this data to calibrated an numerical HSPF model to evaluate stormwater runoff in the watershed and to guide stream restoration approaches in the headwater regions.

On-the-Lake Connections

There are a number of natural lakes and man-made reservoirs in the Susquehanna watershed, which provide a wonderful setting for students to learn about limnology, aquatic ecology of lotic systems, thermal stratification, and much more. The WSE Program maintains a research contract with the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources at several of its state parks, to allow faculty and staff access to their ponds, wetlands, and lakes.

Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Dr. Matthew McTammany leads his Limnology (BIOL 498) students on a pontoon boat on the man-made reservoir at Roaring Creek in the Weiser State Forest. Here they learn how to use a special instrument to collect samples of the lake water at different depths and measure how the thermal stratification of the reservoir affects the dissolved oxygen and pH levels.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Students electrofish the margins of a man-made pond in a suburban development near campus as part of a lake management component and better ways to maintain health and habitat of small ponds.

Recreational Connections

On-the-water classrooms are never boring! A significant part of any transformative learning experience is discovery the beauty and recreational value of the Susquehanna watershed. The WSE Program is always looking for ways to expand our teaching to include extended field trips to more distant parts of the watershed. A sense of community builds among the students on these trips, which over more time for reflection and analysis as well.

Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Students enjoying themselves while camping on a sandy beach along the Chesapeake Bay.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
The WSE Program hosts a fly tying session for the fishing club, teaching beginners about what fish eat and how to tie effective patterns.
Connecting students to the Susquehanna River
Students enjoy a moment in the sun along Penns Creek, one of the nation's premiere trout streams and located close to Bucknell's campus.

Watershed Sciences and Engineering Program

Watershed Tools

The Watershed Sciences and Engineering Program at Bucknell University seeks to achieve national distinction for excellence in education and scholarship in science and engineering by incorporating the Susquehanna River watershed as a teaching and research laboratory.

Since 2006, it has been integrating water and the river into the curriculum and across academic disciplines in ways that enrich Bucknell's intellectual environment, promote sustainability and watershed stewardship, and enable the university to act as a catalyst for environmental and cultural progress in the mid-Atlantic region and beyond.

For more information, please contact

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