After 26 days spent exploring issues facing water systems in the western United States, the students and faculty who participated in the inaugural Water in the West trip returned to Allendale on June 7.
Inaugural Water in the West trip gives students invaluable experiences, new perspectives
On the four-week geology trip, students learned about fossils in Devonian Fossil Gorge, watched the sunrise at Grand Canyon, kayaked the Colorado River and more. They witnessed, many for the first time, just how delicate the water system of the Colorado River is and how it presents a very stark change to the predictable water system in Michigan.
Their trip was timely as well. Just over one week into the trip, an agreement was reached that incentivizes states that rely on the Colorado River to conserve water in order to prevent an unprecedented drought. As the group followed the Colorado River throughout the trip, they saw firsthand the implications of the drought as they learned from professors Peter Wampler and Peter Riemersma.
Joel Vogeli, a mechanical engineering major with a minor in mathematics, returned to Allendale with a new perspective on his career ambitions. “Being more environmentally focused as an engineer is so important,” he said. “So now with the things that I come up with, I’m thinking: How can this impact the environment? Should I even recommend this as a solution? It might work, but do I even want to say it? Will this be the best solution for people and the environment?”
In addition to countless hikes, research sessions and notes from daily field journals, students also participated in book clubs. Ashtyn Gluck, a rising sophomore studying environmental and sustainability studies, found herself frustrated while reading “Science be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River” by Eric Kuhn and John Fleck.
“The book is about how the Colorado River Compact was written and how it came to fruition in 1922,” Gluck said. “One of the things I really struggled reading was their tone talking about the river. It's so interesting to see in the past how people explored these things and thought: How can we take advantage of this? It was very selfish. I think it was a shock to me.”
Others are returning with an increased passion for conservation and sustainability. Lillie Waldron, a rising junior, has already begun a conservation student organization called Campus Cleanup Crew at Grand Valley alongside Mitchell Fedewa, who was also on the trip, with Wampler as their advisor. “Conservation is really important to me,” she said.
As a biomedical sciences major with a minor in aquatic sciences, the trip helped secure Waldron in her passions and career goals. “I'm thinking about working with water chemistry, so it's been really cool looking at water out here because that's something I might end up doing in the future. I’m definitely passionate about the activism component,” she said.
As the trip came to a close, students said they felt grateful for their new perspective on water, the world and themselves. “It’s been a big perspective change. We are little ants in comparison to how the world moves and works,” Vogeli said. “This trip has definitely shown us that there are a lot bigger things going on and there's a lot to learn.”
Sign up and receive the latest Grand Valley headlines delivered to your email inbox each morning.