Misericordia University is located on 127 scenic acres in Dallas, PA, in the Back Mountain region of Luzerne County. The campus's proximity to lakes, streams and lush forests provides the ideal setting for biology students interested in learning about and protecting the local environment.
Cosima Wiese, Ph.D., professor and chairperson of the university's Biology department, has worked with many students over the years who share her passion for preserving the environment. Dr. Wiese is currently working with Michael Shuman, a junior biology major from Ellington, CT on three different water quality testing projects impacting lakes and streams near campus.
Regular testing of local water sources is an important step for assessing water quality and to help prevent problems before they occur. For ponds or lakes with an existing water quality issue, testing is an essential tool for diagnosing the cause of the problem and determining appropriate treatment options.
One of the research projects involves collaborating with a small non-profit organization that owns more than 20 acres of property that serves as an outdoor learning experience for young children.
"We are conducting 24/7 monitoring of the water quality of the creek that runs through the property. We are building a website with the data we collect and making this available for teachers to use as a tool in schools," said Dr. Wiese.
Another collaboration is with the property owners' association on Lake Louise, which has seen an increase in algae over the last few years. "They have a dozen or so homes on the lake. They're experiencing water quality issues which are impacting their ability to enjoy the lake. We've been working on this for almost two years now; we go out monthly, collect water samples, run tests, and deliver a report to the association," she explained.
"Using a four-sensor system we are able to take water from various depths in the lake and get live readings of what the water quality is like. We take samples back to the lab on campus and conduct further analysis on nitrate-nitrogen, phosphorous and ammonia levels," said Shuman.
Dr. Wiese was recently contacted by another non-profit organization that provides outdoor activities for military active-duty personnel, veterans and first responders. This 30-acre site has a creek running through it where participants can fish. The organization was concerned about the water quality in the creek, so they take samples of the water weekly and deliver it to the biology lab for testing.
"We look for various pollutants in the water such as phosphates, nitrogen, and ammonia, to see if that's what's affecting the fish populations and the health of the stream overall," said Dr. Wiese.
These hands-on research opportunities are just one of the reasons Shuman chose Misericordia. "I chose Misericordia for a lot of reasons: lacrosse, the science program, the small number of people in the classes. I enjoy interacting one-on-one with a professor. You're not a number in a lecture hall with 500 people," said Shuman. "Lacrosse drew my attention, but when I came to visit, the vibe was nice, the campus was beautiful, and it was a good distance from my home. I didn't want to be too close to home, but if I needed to get home in a day I could without having to book a flight."
For Shuman, the proximity to the great outdoors was also important part of his decision to attend Misericordia. "I've been to many places throughout the world. Water has fascinated me my whole life. Working with the water, being around it, it's always a part of my life I've enjoyed. When this research position opened up, I jumped right on it. There's only one way to figure out what you do or don't like, and that's by doing it. This year I've been looking into different career paths. I haven't made my decision on where I want to finish it up and that's ok," he said.
The faculty at Misericordia takes pride in providing opportunities for students to explore a variety of career paths that interest them through classes, research programs and internships.
"We encourage students to keep their options open, to think about what it is that excites them, what grabs them, what they can see themselves doing and to try a lot of things. Enroll in a particular course, try a certain research experience... it teaches you this isn't what I want to do, or wow I never thought of this but it's cool and I really like this," said Dr. Wiese. "I've had students working with Department of Environmental Protection, the fish and game commission, and other organizations because they really like doing this type of work."
Students like Shuman who have not chosen their career path benefit from the variety of research projects available through the Biology department and the labs in the new Frank M. and Dorothea Henry Science Center, a $38.5 million, 85,900-square foot building with 15 teaching labs and nine research labs that opened in the Fall of 2021.
"I love this new science building. I have nothing but praise for it. I watched it being built. It offers a much bigger space to work than the former science building. There are so many more labs. The lab I work in isn't part of the regular lab area, so only Dr. Wiese, myself and other students working for her are in there without anyone else having access to the lab. The previous lab space available to us would take up only a small corner of the lab we have now," said Shuman.
Shuman was recently awarded a Misericordia University Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) by the Vice President of Academic Affairs office. The fellowship provides 15 students with a $4,000 stipend to participate in a 10-week summer research training program on the Misericordia campus. Research fellows receive one-on-one, faculty guided research opportunities and participate in bi-weekly professional development seminars geared toward preparing them for graduate school, future research experiences, and employment. The summer program culminates with two mandatory presentations of the student's findings, a 10-minute oral presentation in the last week of the program, and a poster presentation in October for the entire campus community.
Cosima Wiese, Ph.D., professor and chairperson of Misericordia University's biology department, front, and Michael Shuman, a junior biology major from Connecticut, recently took water samples from Lake Louise in Franklin Twp., Luzerne County.