Students Don Waders to Test Theories

The following story, written by Malinda Rust, was published in The Lawton Constitution on July 5, 2015.  The story highlights the Native American Summer Research Experience program that is made possible through funding provided by the Oklahoma National Science Foundation EPSCoR program.


Students Don Waders to Test Theories
Sun, 07/05/2015 - 2:56am Malinda Rust, The Lawton Constitution

Earth, wind and water. 

These were just a few areas of study for a small group of college students at Cameron University and the Comanche Nation College this summer during a special summer enrichment camp designed to offer students a chance to delve into a variety of scientific concepts. During the eight-week workshop, which is funded by a National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) grant for members of American Indian tribes, the participants are probing three areas of environmental science--water quality, atmospheric conditions and tree growth, and microbial diversity. Each week, both groups of students visit and hear guest speakers from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, OSU Teaching Group and OU Health and Sciences Center. 

The Constitution tagged along Wednesday as Cameron University Dean of the School of Science and Technology Terry Conley and Carla Guthridge, chairwoman of the CU Biological Sciences Department, escorted the six students in the summer program, all of whom are members of federally recognized American Indian tribes, out to collect a variety of field samples along Wolf Creek.

Victoria Meador and Mandi Ulloa donned their waders, climbed into the muddy water and started running a gamut of tests at the first location, just west of 82nd Street behind the St. James Place residential area. Their teammates kept time and recorded new data in their research journal from the shore. 

And they did much more than just fill bottles. They tested water velocity, depth and width of the waterway along with its cloudiness and pH level using a handful of tools from their field kits. With a few droplets of chemicals, Guthridge was able to determine onsite that there was a little less oxygen dissolved in the water than when the group sampled at the same place two weeks ago. 

The five students gathered core samples from three trees along the creek before moving on to the next location. Conley said they would be taking samples and gathering data from nearly a half a dozen sites along west Wolf Creek before it meets East Wolf Creek then along the banks of the combined waterways at the baseball fields along 38th Street and another spot south of Lawton on Coombs Road. 

The sampling sites along Wolf Creek, Conley explained, are not only accessible and convenient for students, but they also provide a variety of watersheds for testing water quality and chemical composure. In some areas of the creek the water entering it has been draining from urban or residential areas, while others contain water traveling through several miles of agricultural land, so the group will be able to determine how each scenario affects our water. 

This is the second time this summer the students have gathered samples, and the watershed was dramatically different after flooding. 

"The water has actually been much cleaner than we expected, especially with so much runoff from the recent floods," Guthridge said. 

After testing at the St. James Place site Wednesday, the students concluded the pH and levels of dissolved oxygen for the creek water were both lower than their tests two weeks prior. 

Guthridge said the data collected from the experiments is partially analyzed as they collect it, but they will take several weeks at the end of the program to prepare presentations of findings. Even though they shared some predictions about what they expect to find  Rusty Paris said he anticipated slower velocities in the later experiments and more bacteria growth due to stagnation  Guthridge said they are also letting the findings generate new hypotheses. 

At the end of the workshop, the participants will present all their findings during a combined meeting with students from Comanche Nation College. 

That will include conclusions from their microbial studies and tree ring studies.

Once the water samples were gathered Wednesday, Meador and Ulloa joined the rest of their classmates as they bored holes into the trunks of three American elm trees along the creek bed. At every site where there were trees, they gathered core samples from three or more trees in the area.

“By looking at the core samples, we can see the rings of growth for each year,” Conley explained. “We can look at that to study how environmental variations or weather patterns for that year affected the trees.”

On dry, hot years, the rings should be narrow as opposed to larger rings during wet, cool years.

Conley said they will examine the tree cores alongside 30 years of recorded weather data to draw conclusions. The activity, he said, illustrates how trees as living biological records can be studied, shedding light on ancient periods of history.

The third major area of study for the students is biological diversity. Earlier in the summer, each student collected five liters of water, filtered out the organic matter and sent it to the University of Oklahoma Heath and Sciences Center for DNA analysis. Once the DNA sequences are isolated, each student will receive a report from the University of Oklahoma, which will be used to determine the number of different types of bacteria living within the ecosystem.

The number of different kinds of organisms in the water and the quality of the water itself will affect the environment and the diversity of all other organisms within an ecosystem, Guthridge said.

“Often we think about science in a little way, examining microbes in a lab. This helps them think about science in a big way,” Guthridge said.

The workshop, she said, also helps students see the connections between various disciplines like chemistry and biology.

“The kids learn that the scientific thought process doesn’t have to be explored during lectures in a classroom,” Guthridge said. “This makes science hands-on and enjoyable.”

Interestingly, not all the students enrolled in Cameron’s workshop are majoring in areas of study rooted in biological sciences

— Paris is an engineering student, Scott Wilson a physics major. Both said the workshop is helping them strengthen their lab skills, which will help them as they continue their studies.

Summer Morgan and Meador are both studying natural sciences and biology, and both were interested in enhancing their research experience.

Ulloa is an elementary education student. While she wasn’t sure what to expect from the workshop, she said she’s happy to have learned some skills that may help her teach scientific methods to youngsters.

“I think it’s important for some of the younger kids who want to study science when they grow up to have teachers who encourage that,” Ulloa said. “Nobody really teaches them that at a young age now, maybe because they didn’t particularly enjoy it when they were students themselves.”

All the students said they especially liked working outside and interacting with the world around them.

Guthridge said future workshop participants can draw upon the research data from previous years for more comprehensive studies.  Their presentations with conclusions from their experiments are scheduled for July 23. 

The National Science Foundation EPSCoR program, in cooperation with Oklahoma State University, partnered with Cameron University and Comanche Nation College on this project.


Pictured (above):  Student researcher Victoria Meador passes a water sample collected from west Wolf Creek to Cameron University Dean of the School of Science and Technology Terry Conley during a field trip.

The online version of this story can be found on the Lawton Constitution's website at