Eileen Oelhaf ’13 spent the summer developing a database for native plants that are most effective in sequestering and absorbing sediment and nutrient runoff. Working under the direction of Associate Professor of Geoscience Nan Crystal Arens, the research was a collaborative project with the Ontario County Soil and Water Conservation District and part of the Ecosystem Restoration through the Interdisciplinary Exchange (ERIE) program funded and operated by the University of Buffalo.
Oelhaf and Arens investigated the feasibility of community involvement in ecological restoration. “We are looking to eventually plant a riparian forest buffer to prevent agricultural runoff from entering the stream and then develop an assessment of the success of community engagement,” says Oelhaf, a double major in biology and environmental studies.
Together, they will create a vegetated area near a stream to keep agricultural runoff from the water supply, and will work to engage community members in the project. To measure the success of the project, they will test the water, and analyze the effects of the combined community involvement and scientific theory.
This semester, as an Honors student, Oelhaf continues to work with various environmental outreach groups, including the Seneca Roots and Shoots chapter, which seeks to engage youth through service learning.
“Working with a student certainly helps to advance the project faster than it would without the extra mind and hands,” says Arens.
She will also work on water testing this fall. “This fall, we will collaborate with the Finger Lakes Institute’s Citizen Science program to create a baseline stream monitoring program,” Oelhaf explains.
In 2013, Oelhaf plans to team with the Finger Lakes Institute and HWS Day of Service in completing her research project. “We are hoping that the buffer will be planted with the help of the HWS Day of Service in the spring of 2013,” says Oelhaf.
Arens is excited about citizens investing in the environment. “We shouldn’t wait for an outside agency to swoop in and solve our problems – we can tackle them ourselves,” she says.
Oelhaf says that her interest in environmental conservation has developed through her interdisciplinary coursework. Professor Beth Newell’s ecology class made her aware of the complexity of natural systems, and “Environmental Ethics” with Assistant Professor of Philosophy Rodmon King gave her a new understanding of the meaning and value of ecological restoration, she says.
On campus, Oelhaf is a teaching assistant for the introductory biology labs and co-president of the newly-founded Sustainable Foods Club. She is also a member of the Colleges Chorale and the manager of the Sustainable Foods theme house.