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Research Reu Featured Student

Stephanie Harpster started her summer on the historical sailing ship Brig Niagara

A Summer of Learning

Stone Lab classes give students the opportunity to experience field science first-hand, to catch up on college credits or get a head start on major requirements, and to simply have a great time learning with other students. Of course, for some students, a Stone Lab summer can be all of those things and more.

Stephanie Harpster, a junior at Ohio State University’s Lima campus, started her summer on the historical sailing ship Brig Niagara, taking an environmental science course that took her on a tour of the Great Lakes, from Erie, Pennsylvania all the way up to Alpena, Michigan. The course, a collaboration between Niagara University, Penn State University, and Ohio State’s Stone Lab, introduced students to environmental and policy issues in the Great Lakes region.

“It was amazing,” Stephanie remembers. “Just being able to work with others, all the workers, the classmates, the professors, and even the captain of the ship was unbelievable.”

One of the students’ responsibilities on board was actually taking part in sailing the ship, from steering and navigation to climbing the rigging. The latter definitely requires being comfortable with heights – the main mast is more than 100 feet tall. But for Stephanie, it was one of the best parts of living on the ship. “It’s scary going up and down, but once you get up there, it’s just an amazing view, and you feel like you’ve conquered your fear of heights.”

“Just being able to work with others, all the workers, the classmates, the professors, and even the captain of the ship was unbelievable.”
Stephanie Harpster

Living in close quarters with forty other people also teaches students how to work well with others while keeping interactions professional, and shows that they can be a dependable team player to future instructors or employers.

But “Environmental Science on the Brig Niagara” wasn’t the only Stone Lab course Stephanie took this summer. Right after the ship returned to port in Erie, Pennsylvania, she traveled to Stone Lab to start a one-week Field Herpetology class, and she stayed on Stone Lab’s Gibraltar Island for almost two months, completing a five-week limnology course, a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), and another one-week Field Ecology class. She also attended two workshops at the lab, allowing the 2012 high school graduate from Hardin County to begin this fall semester at OSU Lima as a junior.

Stephanie hopes to do research in the future, so the REU program was a great way to gain experience in that area. She worked with Dr. Darren Bade, Assistant Professor at Kent State University and a Stone Lab instructor, on determining nitrification rates in Lake Erie. Nitrification happens when bacteria take in ammonium from the water, add oxygen to it during respiration, and create nitrate. Dr. Bade’s research examines the impact of the nitrification process on Lake Erie dead zones – areas of low dissolved oxygen in the water – and Stephanie was able to determine the rate of nitrification in water samples from Put-in-Bay and Sandusky Bay locations.

Of course, Stone Lab classes require a lot of commitment from students, even if they’re not taking as many classes as Stephanie did. But spending the summer in a location like Gibraltar Island would be wasted if students didn’t at least take some time to explore the area. “I always made sure to spend a little part of the day having fun, walking the beaches, and just seeing how the island changes,” Stephanie remembers.