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Students improve local stream health during ‘Day to Serve’

Visiting Assistant Professor Stacy Zell (center), with two of the student volunteers.
September 24, 2013

Over the two-day stream clean-up project, the students who waded through Cranberry Branch amassed 135 pounds of trash, assorted recyclables and oddities – including old socks and an even older cassette player.

More than 10 students worked collaboratively to rehabilitate the local stream, which is registered in poor health by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, under the leadership of Mona Becker, assistant professor of Environmental Studies, and Sara French, associate director of Community Engagement in the Center for Exerience and Opportunity.

“It’s not a really big stream, so it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention,” said Becker, who explained that pollution, population growth and simple neglect brought the stream that neighbors Maryland Route 140 into the red-zone.

The project was a part of Day to Serve, a joint effort between the governors of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, and the mayor of Washington, D.C. to inspire mass community service efforts on a local level.

Becker learned of the event this summer when she attended a luncheon with the governor about stream health in Maryland and decided to bring the opportunity to campus.

“It’s a chance to get outside and make a difference for a couple hours,” she said of the service-learning opportunity.

Cranberry Branch, less than a five-minute drive from campus, lies within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

“Everything in Carroll County runs into the Chesapeake Bay. When we’re talking about stream health, we’re really talking about bay health,” said Becker, who explained that even though the area is largely rural, fertilizers, highway runoff and trash can cause serious damage beyond the local waterways.

Among the McDaniel students wading through the stream and climbing alongside the banks was junior Erin Giles, a Communication major with a minor in Art History from Lavale, Md.

Giles found out about the stream clean-up in “Environmental Problem Solving,” which she says she had enrolled in to meet the scientific inquiry requirement of the McDaniel Plan.

“This experience has been great. It has sparked my interest more than I had imagined,” said Giles, who will use the stream clean-up as inspiration for her final project in class. She plans to participate in future environmentally driven service projects.

Students improve local stream health during ‘Day to Serve’

Visiting assistant professor Stacy Zell, who instructs Giles’ class, worked with her students to sort through the contents of 12 bags spread out onto a tarp. They were surprised to find some living crayfish, two wolf spiders, and a salamander mixed in with the trash and debris. Also unexpected was one bag of thin sheet plastic that weighed almost 25 pounds by itself.

“That weight doesn’t seem like much until you see it spread out and think about how much area thin plastic pieces can cover along a bank and in a stream as the sun hits it and its toxins are released,” said Zell.

According to Becker, there are always opportunities available for students who want to participate in environmental service learning in Carroll County. In the past, students have worked with the City of Westminster, the Master Gardeners of Carroll County, and Hashawa Environmental Center.

“I have lists of environmental opportunities that come across my desk every day that are just waiting for students to take advantage of them,” said Becker, who explained that job growth in the environmental field is projected to grow faster than the average growth rate.

French and the Center for Experience for Opportunity also connect students to service opportunities based on their interests. More than 85 first-year students and peer mentors participated in this August’s Community Service Plunge, where students work with various local organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Carroll County, Caring Carroll, Human Services Programs and the Westminster Street Department, and the annual Westminster Spring Clean-Up hosted 150 student volunteers last year.

Freshman Cris Stockton-Juarez from Carlisle, Pa., a double major in Environmental Studies and Art History who aspires to join the Peace Corps, said, “It makes me happy that there’s diversity in service opportunities.”

Last year, McDaniel students completed nearly 112,000 hours of community service, and for the first time, McDaniel College was named to the 2013 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Department of Education.

“Volunteer work is a two-way street. You’re working to change the world, but the world is also changing you,” said French.