With the ongoing climate crisis and pollution around the world, Kelsey Bitting, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies wants her students to be part of the solution.
As part of their ENS 111 “Introduction to Environmental Sciences” course, Bitting works with the Clean Haw River Project to motivate students through visual presentations such as welcome graphics, articles, and research presentations that instantly help support The Clean The Cause of the Haw River Project.
“We can do something that is of value to the rest of the world, just in this class,” said Bitting.
Groups are required to submit a project proposal for both Bitting and the founders of the Clean Haw River Project to review. The groups are then tasked with following a timeline so that each group is held accountable.
After the final submission of the respective projects, each project is immediately implemented on the Haw River project’s Facebook page or website, depending on which medium the student has chosen.
The Clean Haw River Project was co-founded and co-founded by Katie Bryant, microbiologist and clean water activist, and Jessica Merricks, professor of biology at Elon. Her main focus is on educating citizens about pollution from emerging chemicals, especially PFAS or polyfluoroalkyl substances, in the Haw River and motivating them to take action to address the water problems.
Bryant said the water in the North Carolina town of Pittsboro has long been contaminated, partly due to the textile industry, but many locals are used to it. Many residents of Pittsboro, which is only 35 miles from Elon’s campus, cannot drink water from their taps.
“This is alarming,” said Bryant. “I’ve lived across the country and I’ve never met a group of people who were just so laissez-fair. It was like no big deal. “
According to Byrant, there is no protection system or quality control system for waterways. This results in chemicals like PFAS being added to the foods that people eat, like instant popcorn. By making Bryant aware of college students who are also affected, it can help inspire more action and develop tools that the Clean Haw River Project can use to support its cause.
“This is not just a water contamination problem, we are being contaminated by products,” said Bryant. “Cooking is the greatest, and when you understand that it is immediately a bigger problem for us as we are trying to remove it from our water, which is currently our greatest source of contamination.”
Bitting students can design a product that is tailored to their interests. For example, human health majors can focus on the data linking environmental concerns to human health, or design majors can create infographics to show the chemicals the Haw River is exposed to.
“I have a feeling that people will make something out of it,” said Bitting. “I’m delighted that they have the opportunity to use their skills and strengths in ways that will be relevant to them in the future, but also help them connect with environmental science, even if they’re just doing something [the class] because they have to. “
Bitting’s goal is to address real world problems that will raise students’ awareness of what is happening in the surrounding communities. Merricks said she hopes to continue this way of engaging students in the community even after the Pittsboro water is clean.
“That’s happening right now,” Merricks said. “There are people who are literally down the street from Elon and are suffering.”
Merricks said when most students think about environmental science topics, they think about climate change and deforestation. However, by raising awareness of lesser-known environmental problems and focusing their energies on grassroots movements, they can achieve positive environmental change.
“You can make changes right where you live and it can make a huge difference to real people,” Merricks said. “I hope that by focusing this lesson on a city and the real people … what you do will help educate the people who live here. I mean, they could potentially change your life. ”
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