July 25, 2003
Lakeside lab promotes learning
by Barbara McManus,Ag Information Services
Mike Barker maneuvers a pontoon carrying 10 Iowa State students away from
the dock and toward the deepest part of Lake Okoboji. Barker, a graduate
student in agronomy, is part of a watershed hydrology class held at the Iowa
Lakeside Lab on West Okoboji.
Earlier in the morning, students discussed the Rathbun watershed they had
visited the day before. During this four-week course, students will study
the characteristics of several Iowa watersheds, streams and lakes. Today,
they are ready to learn more about Lake Okoboji. Their pontoon becomes a
Barker stops the boat in the middle of the lake and students begin to take
measurements. One group uses a Secchi Disk, a flat steel disk with black and
white markings, to measure water clarity. The process is simple; the disk is
lowered into the water until the markings no longer are visible and then the
rope is measured to get the depth of clarity. Other students measure the
lake's pH, acidity and oxygen levels.
The class is one of four Iowa State classes offered this summer at the Iowa
Lakeside Lab, which is managed by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.
Agronomy associate professor Lee Burras teaches the hydrology class.
"The first thing I ask students is, 'Do you know what watershed you grew up
in?' And most don't," Burras said.
A watershed is the area of land that drains into a stream or body of water.
Burras said that knowing the boundaries of a watershed sometimes is more
important than knowing political boundaries.
"We are all downstream from someone. If you really want to understand what
is going on with the water you use, you need to know your watershed
boundaries," Burras said.
After obtaining the measurements and recording data, the students return to
shore for lunch. They eat meals together in a commons area overlooking the
Small class, big experience
Tim Dougherty appreciates the small class size and the one-on-one attention
from Burras. He also enjoys the outdoors and a chance to have this hands-on
learning experience. He's a junior majoring in environmental science, and
during the first few weeks of class, he has learned that there is a balance
between economic and environmental issues.
"It's much more complicated than, say, just planting a tree," Dougherty
said. "If you plant a tree, you have to know who it will affect. Also, down
the road, you need to know what type of resources the tree will need and
where those resources come from."
After lunch, the students travel five miles over gravel roads to Dugout
Creek. The van stops just above a small stream that meanders through a flat,
grassy area surrounded by hills. Students carry measuring instruments down a
ditch, through waist-high grass, and wade into the stream to measure stream
flow and water clarity.
They also pull soil samples from beneath the grassy surface. After looking
at the cylinders of black, organic soil, student Mary Nyasimi said, "This is
Nyasimi, from Kenya, is working on a master's degree in sustainable
agriculture. She hopes to take what she learns back to Kenya and address
water quality issues there.
When asked about Kenya's water problems, Nyasimi sighs deeply.
"One thing I can tell you is that women walk four hours to collect water,"
Burras said one of the biggest advantages of the class for students is the
hands-on learning experience.
"I love teaching on campus, but I'm well aware that students may not know
what a watershed is," he said. "Here, I'm confident they will remember what
a watershed is for the rest of their lives."
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
Copyright © 1995-2003, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.