Digging Deep: New Educational Well Field Expands Student Opportunities and Research

It’s a sunny spring day at Kent State University at Stark – the perfect day to install an educational groundwater well field behind the campus’ Pond & Wetlands Research Area. And while contractors dig deep, science faculty know the groundbreaking will have an impact that’s limitless: real-world learning through hands-on experience.

Near the drilling site, Eric Taylor, Ph.D., associate professor of geology, and Carrie Schweitzer, Ph.D., professor of geology, watch eagerly. This moment is one they’ve been looking forward to for years.

Tradesmen from Ohio Testbor, Inc. – contracted by Terracon Consultants, Inc., a construction engineering firm from Parma, Ohio – begin their work. The team uses a drill rig to dig six to seven wells, each between 10 and 20 feet deep. For two of the wells, the bottom 10 feet will include a perforated PVC pipe surrounded by packed sand to filter water flow – a new source for new educational opportunities in Kent State Stark’s science department.

This is the first time Terracon’s Cleveland location has partnered with a university on an educational project – something they’ve wanted to do for a long time.

“We’re very proud to be a part of this,” said Chett Siefring, P.E., department manager of Geotechnical Services at Terracon. “I personally, and I know the company, too, finds this greatly educational. Anything to advance the educational side of this is fantastic.”

Made possible by a $14,190 grant from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation and the partnership with Terracon, the well field will be used in conjunction with the start of a new Kent State Stark course – Water and the Environment.

“Through Dominion Energy’s Environmental Education and Stewardship Program, we are proud to award funding to Kent State Stark’s Water Resources Initiative,” said Tracy Oliver, Dominion Energy’s director of media and local affairs. “This program combines environmental educational opportunities for university students, K-12 students and the public.

“Kent State Stark’s leadership and unique position to lead sustainability and water quality projects should be applauded,” added Oliver. “Supporting innovative organizations that improve the environment and provide educational experiences in the communities served by Dominion Energy is core to our business.”

Real-world skills and experience

The new class will be an introductory course to any of the science majors, but it will be of particular interest to students in geology, geography, environmental studies and biology paths, faculty explained.

“I’ve wanted to do this many years ago,” said Taylor. “But… timing. It’s all about timing.”

And, the timing was finally right when Kent State University anthropology and geology alumnus, Daniel Pratt, P.E., P.G., spoke to a geology career class at the Stark Campus. Pratt, who, at the time, worked at Terracon, suggested the well field partnership and was instrumental in getting the project rolling – or in this case, drilling.

So, what will happen once the wells are installed?

“It’s as simple as watching water flow,” said Taylor.

Taylor and Schweitzer explained that students will garner first-hand experience monitoring groundwater, how the levels change throughout the seasons and how the water drops when pumped then discharged. They will be able to test the water from the wells to look at water quality and make comparisons to the water in the nearby pond.

“The broader perspective is that employers want students to have skills and experience,” said Taylor. “We really want to offer our students the opportunity to learn a skill and develop that. By installing the well field, we have the ability to let the students gain practical experience in something that they’ll do down the road.”

“We’re so excited,” added Schweitzer. “The teaching is going to be invaluable because this is what you do as a geologist.”

Enhanced learning opportunities – from ground up

During the drilling process, soil samples are taken every few feet for students to study and analyze in class.

Maxwell Purses, a junior attending both the Kent and Stark Campuses, is already benefiting from the ground breaking. A 2018 Perry High School graduate, Purses is currently working on a project in his Sedimentology and Stratigraphy class at the Kent Campus focusing on glacial events.

“We have to talk about them – when they happened, proof that they happened, comparing two different areas where it shows evidence of it happening and why that evidence correlates with it. I’m using the last glacial maximum, which is a glaciation event that happened recently, about 12,000 year ago. The sediments in this correlate with that,” Purses said, referring to the box full of preserved and labeled samples gathered near the drilling site. “When the glaciers were covering Ohio, they left a bunch of coarse sediments – like this here (pointing to the collection) – so I can use that to prove evidence. And if I compare it to another area, then it works together quite well.”

Amanda Cox, a senior environmental studies student stopped by to watch the drilling process and immediately made the connection.

“I think any opportunities that students have to see things in person and hands-on enhances their education,” said Cox. “You can read stuff out of a book, but to actually see it happen, sometimes visually it makes more sense.”

And isn’t it true that when dreamers have the resources to do, they do more and go further than ever before? Some might even say the sky’s the limit; but geologists know being grounded is where you grow.

POSTED: Monday, May 3, 2021 - 1:50pm
UPDATED: Monday, June 14, 2021 - 9:00am
Brielle Loughney