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Environmental Science Students Show Off Internship Project

November 2022
  • From left: QCC students Danielle Weaver and Haley LaFortune
    From left: QCC students Danielle Weaver and Haley LaFortune present findings from their internship.
  • Dolichospermum and Trichome photographed by Danielle and Haley
    Dolichospermum and Trichome photographed by QCC students Danielle Weaver and Haley LaFortune

Quinsigamond Community College Environmental Science students Haley LaFortune and Danielle Weaver got their feet wet at a paid internship with the Worcester Cyanobacteria Monitoring Collaborative (WCMC) studying the water quality of Worcester area water bodies. They presented the findings of their internship on Friday, October 21, 2022 , in the Harrington Learning Center during the last day of Massachusetts STEM Week. 

Haley and Danielle collected samples from Singletary Lake in Millbury, the first body of water outside of Worcester that has become part of the WCMC. They took samples two times a month from May - October and then analyzed the findings.

"It was the best job I've ever had," Danielle said.

Both students said they were surprised at how clean the water was, noting that the lake is very deep which could help with the quality of the water. 

According to Danielle and Haley, freshwater systems are vulnerable. Any overabundance of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, can cause a bloom which in turn can lead to a high concentration of toxins in the water, causing fish and plants to die. In addition, these blooms can be harmful to humans and animals (especially dogs) that might come into contact with the water. Several lakes in Worcester closed down over the summer for this very reason.

The students pointed out that rising temperatures and increased use of fertilizer contribute to cyanobacteria blooms. Chemicals used at farms in the Midwest U.S. can be carried all the way to Massachusetts through stormwater, demonstrating how connected we all are, and how our actions affect the environment as a whole. 

Danielle said she is passionate about projects like the WCMC and wants to pursue a career in environmental justice when she graduates. She noted that there isn't much in the way of historic data on local freshwater, so it's vital to increase the availability through more research.

Haley is also concerned about the future of our environment and wants to focus on agronomy when she transfers from QCC next year.

"Places in South America are having such extreme heat that they can't grow food. I want to fix problems like that," she said.

Professor and Coordinator of Liberal Arts-Environmental Science Option Program, Anita Soracco, who facilitated the internship had both students last year in her Sustaining Earth's Environment course.

 "An internship like this is so advantageous for the students. It gives them a hands-on opportunity to go through the scientific process, learn lab techniques, do fieldwork, and network," she said.

The internship was funded by STEM Starter Academy, which has been funding research projects for the past seven years. Darcy Carlson who is the project coordinator STEM Starter Academy, said this was also a great opportunity for students to get experience with the presentation aspect of a research project. The SSA will bring participating students to present at the UMass Undergraduate Research Conference in April.