Southeast Biology Students Assist with USDA Research on Preventing Ag Runoff


trip 10CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Sept. 15, 2014 – Six students from the Department of Biology at Southeast Missouri State University collaborated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Oxford, Mississippi, over the summer on a research project to reduce agricultural runoff in drinking water.

“I think that everyone involved in this research this summer really showed that Southeast students are hard workers and really know how to work together and be efficient,” said Alexis King of Farmington, Missouri, a Southeast biology major who participated in the work.

Dr. Lucinda Swatzell, Southeast associate professor of biology, said the goal of the research was “to identify native ditch plants that can help retard pesticide flow into our water supply. The plants hold on to the pesticide until the chemicals degrade.”

Swatzell and the students made multiple two-day trips to Oxford throughout the summer. According to Swatzell, the project is one of many performed at the Oxford USDA research facility.

“All of them focus on how farmers can use natural resources to keep agricultural runoff out of our drinking water,” she said.

This particular project focused on pesticide mitigation by native plants.

Students worked on-site in fields collecting data on water quality. They also worked indoors in  labs testing their collected samples for chemicals and extracting pesticides from them.

“[It] was a fairly long, multistep process,” Swatzell said, adding it was “very tedious.”

Specific field responsibilities included calibrating water pumps, collecting water samples for pesticide measurement, calculating plant density, taking water quality readings, and filtering and cataloguing water samples.

“Because of their apparent training and ability to work as a team, their supervisors really trusted them with their own research,” said Swatzell.

IMG_0873All biology students at Southeast are required to complete a form of experiential learning such as research, internships or professional shadowing, Swatzell said.

“One of the reasons for going on this trip was to not only see how they could work with plants as a career, but to get experience as well,” said Swatzell. “It was important to introduce them to people in the field.”

The students’ research will be published, Swatzell said, and will include the names of all six students who assisted in the study.

For Charles Marcee of Cape Girardeau, sophomore biology major, marine biology option, working with the USDA was a real world experience for which he felt prepared due to his Southeast education.

“The remodeling of Magill and the lab improvements made to the school offer a unique experience in biology and chemistry classes, which prepare us for lab and field settings outside of SEMO once we graduate,” said Marcee.

For King, the experience was a valuable one.

“It feels awesome to know that my name will be on the resulting publication, but that was not my intention. I just wanted to get some experience, and I am so thankful to Dr. Swatzell, Dr. (Matt) Moore (USDA research scientist), and the rest of the USDA for letting me take part in this,” she said.

Experiential learning opportunities such as this allow the students to get a glimpse of what to expect in their fields once they graduate.

“Working with the USDA scientists was quite inspiring. It allowed us to glimpse into the future and see exactly what we can expect from our degree,” said Marcee.