Students Tour Areas Hit by BP Spill on Grant Awarded Chemistry Professor

ST. MARY’S CITY, Md. (Sept. 15, 2010)–Five St. Mary’s College of Maryland students toured the coastlines of Mississippi and Louisiana with their chemistry professor over the Labor Day weekend to get firsthand knowledge of the environmental issues there, and to bring back samples of beach sand for further study. The trip was paid for by a grant awarded to Randolph K. Larsen, associate professor of chemistry, when he was named Civic Engagement Fellow by the Center for the Study of Democracy and Project Pericles. This is the first time an entry from St. Mary’s has been chosen for the national fellowship.

“I challenge my students through a variety of activities to grow not only as scientists but also as citizens,” said Larsen. “As an environmental chemist, I’ve always felt that my research was strongly linked to community service.”

The students toured marshes in airboats and beaches lined with booms on ATVs, they visited the still boarded-up houses in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward, and they interviewed area residents.

“What startled me was we thought BP would be the big news there, but people there are still focused on Katrina,” said Kristen Reese ’11. “We start talking about the oil and soon it gets back to Katrina.”

They went to a car show to interview residents from the entire coastal region. “Some were pleased with BP’s efforts and did not think it was that big a deal,” said Emilie Campbell ’11, “but others are worried about the future.”

They also observed the federal government’s “smell tests” of area seafood for contaminants. “My impression was residents were not satisfied with the testing,” said Colleen O’Neil ’11. Students will examine the samples they brought back to practice using modern chemical analysis techniques, and write papers on the health of the area’s ecosystem.

Project Pericles is a not-for-profit organization that encourages colleges to educate students on social responsibility and participatory citizenship. St. Mary’s has been a member of Project Pericles for seven years. The Center for the Study of Democracy was founded as a joint initiative of St. Mary's and its partner institution, Historic St. Mary's City, to provide a forum for presentations by government officials, journalists, and scholars.

Source: SMCM

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