Goshen College students sample the water near the Elkhart River dam over five weeks.

Goshen College students are working with local environmental experts to monitor the Elkhart River's health while using a new mobile app developed by a Goshen company to record their data.

Posted on Oct. 9, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — Goshen Dam Pond is becoming an outdoor laboratory for a group of 60 students who are sampling water to learn about the pond’s health.

Assistant professor Ryan Sensenig’s ecology class at Goshen College has started a five-week project with the help of local environmentalists and a new mobile application developed by a Goshen company.

Students wore rubber waders and used nets to scoop up muck and tiny aquatic insects near the dam Thursday. Later on in the course, they will find out more about the pond’s chemical makeup and learn about the fish that live in the water.

“For many of the students, this is their first experience doing water collecting, so they’re learning the scientific terminology and the criteria for collection all at once,” said Melissa Kinsey, an environmental educator.

Sensenig and Kinsey started the Community Clean Water Project together a few years ago to study the St. Joseph River Watershed, concentrating on the Elkhart River and its tributaries. The project, a local adaptation of Hoosier Riverwatch, includes about eight volunteers who monitor local waterways year round. Some of those volunteers, including Kinsey, are lending a hand to the Goshen College students this fall.

Sensenig’s class will be trying something new this year. Instead of using pens and paper to log their data, the students will be testing out a new app developed by Hertzler Systems Inc. in Goshen that sends the information they enter to a server at Goshen College.

One of Sensenig’s major goals for this project goes beyond testing water samples. Sensenig wants to show his students how science can link to the community.

“The fact that they’re brushing shoulders with Melissa and her team, that they’re collaborating with Evan and his team with Hertzler, they’re able to see how science fits into the larger social construct, so I hope they can take that away to whatever they do,” Sensenig said.

Some of the students, Sensenig said, are training to be biologists while others want study medicine or wildlife. Jessica Davila, a freshman, wants to be a geneticist after she graduates.

“I think it’s interesting,” Davila said. “I want to learn more about the species that are found here and how pollution has affected our water.”

Sensenig said the ultimate goal for his students is for them to communicate their findings to the public.

“That’s the art of science,” he said.

The students will pitch ideas for a website that will be designed using information they have collected over the five-week course. The website will become a venue for the public to learn about local waterways and their biological health.

“I’m really fascinated by this mix of people who are studying this beautiful watershed that we’ve got here,” Hertzler CEO Evan Miller said. “And with this website that they will be building, the more people that are aware about the watershed and care about it, the better it is for the community and the environment.”

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