Summer research has resumed at Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a select number of faculty and students back to campus. In accordance with New York’s Phase II reopening of the Finger Lakes Region, a limited number of HWS researchers are at work in labs and at field sites. With a shortened schedule, the faculty have revised their research schedules and even the scope of the projects themselves.
Associate Professor of Biology Brad Cosentino had planned a large-scale experiment with students through the HWS summer science research programs. Now on a condensed schedule, he will work with Connor Parrow ’21 on an urban ecology and evolution study based in Geneva, examining the variations in the fur color of squirrels in the area.
“We’ll pilot some methods for capturing data on gray squirrels along an urban to rural gradient that will eventually be scaled to 10 cities in upstate New York and Canada. It’s a smaller scale than we’d planned, but good experience nonetheless,” Cosentino says.
Professor of Environmental Studies John Halfman, whose work focuses on the waters and watersheds of the Finger Lakes, plans to have students in his lab in August and through the early fall. In past summers, Halfman has routinely monitored water quality in eight of the Finger Lakes and analyzed for a range of parameters but was forced to cut back in both respects this year. Deploying water quality and meteorological buoys this spring was also delayed and this year’s Science on Seneca high school outreach program, which regularly brings more than 400 students to experience science firsthand on the William Scandling, was cancelled due to the pandemic.
“I had to forgo my weekly monitoring of Seneca Lake in the spring until I was allowed to continue this activity a few weeks ago. It placed a huge hole in my 25-year water quality database. It also eliminated an opportunity to have students join me on the Scandling to learn about water quality fieldwork,” Halfman says.
However, with help of faculty colleagues Halfman has completed the work and is “hopeful that a colleague from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab in Michigan can still come this July to recover two thermistor moorings we’ve deployed in Seneca Lake. It’s a great dataset and will inform us on lake temperatures during the winter months.”
While there remains “a lot of challenges and uncertainty” around the state of the pandemic nationally, Cosentino says, “we’ve got back up plans,” including “a project we can do remotely with citizen science data to see if we can pick up on urban gradients of squirrels around the world.”
In the meantime, as the Colleges begin a phased reopening, Halfman is eager to welcome back student researchers.
“It is the student experience that has driven me to continue my research efforts. It has jump started numerous environmental and health related careers,” says Halfman, who was recently recognized with the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance’s 2020 Citizen of the Year Award. “It’s my job to provide the best educational experience for the students that walk in the door.”
The photo above features Associate Professor of Biology Brad Cosentino at work in his lab.