AJohnson Process Paper

                For my senior capstone, I conducted a research project on water hyacinth; an invasive plant species from the Amazon. Choosing this project came naturally to me. I knew that during college I would want to study environmental science or civil engineering. While at the Environmental Protection Agency, a coworker suggested I look into the plant species that habitat the Delaware River. After researching the Delaware and invasive plant species, I decided this would be the perfect project.

                My capstone addresses the SLA core values in many ways. For one, collaboration was a major, if not integral, portion of my capstone. It was often necessary to reach out to coworkers to give feedback on my proposal as well as research paper. I also had to gain the backing of a knowledgeable team. With a great team behind me, it was easy to move forward with conducting our research. Another very important piece of this project was research. Countless hours were spent understanding the water hyacinth plant, removal and disposal methods, and its anatomy. This information was vital to properly conducting the project. Understanding the growth pattern of water hyacinth along with the tidal patterns of the Delaware made conducting research easier. In terms of the value of presentation and reflection, a great deal of attention was paid to the detail within the research paper. After reading some other published research papers on water hyacinth and its applications, I made sure that my paper was read over by many pairs of eyes. This ensured the quality of the project was evident in its documentation.

                To complete this capstone, four steps were followed. Research, comprehension, application, reflection. These steps were used countless times during the process of my capstone. Research was used to layer the basic understanding of all elements incorporated into my capstone. From understanding scientific measurements of the biology of a river to using probes for water quality testing. This research was often revised and revisited. Comprehension played a key role in the project. After conducting all the necessary research, the team got together to ensure that all information was not only relevant, but that it could also help us to direct our study areas to those in which finding/identifying water hyacinth would be possible. This step was also used to devise the course maps for the project. Application was the manifestation of our research and planning. We took everything that we learned and went into the field to collect our data. Over the course of two days, the team managed to visit 6 different sites. Three sites were on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River while the other 3 were on the Pennsylvania side. These sites were chosen after careful deliberation with the project team. We ensured that all sites had a relative proximity as well as being easy to navigate to. Reflection was the final step in completing this capstone. Reflecting on the team’s work, it was evident that our research could have a long term impact in the quality of our river. After conducting the project, it was evident that we needed to reach out to other agencies to ensure that the right people were aware that water hyacinth may have spread to Pennsylvania as well as New Jersey.

                One major obstacle that presented the project team early on were the effects of the sequestration. Due to the sequestration, it was unclear at times whether or not the research project would be able to move forward. Another factor that affected the project was the equipment needed. The boat that was set to be used had not yet undergone its inspection and checklist. For this reason, the course map was redrawn to allow us to visit sites in which we knew water hyacinth could exist while having access to the shore. In the end, these two factors caused the project to be conducted from shore instead of using the boat. During the course of the project, there were often many a time in which other knowledge bases were needed. Often, I tapped in to my coworkers. They proved invaluable with a plethora of information about conducting research projects, writing a clear research paper, and quality assurance standards to use while conducting research.

                I am most proud of the experience given by this capstone. Most students in high school do not get to conduct their very own research project. Having the experience of conducting and leading a research team for a project was very exciting. It showed me a lot about collaboration as well as effective use and consolidation of resources. When we found that we could not use a specific program or tool, we quickly turned gear to find another way of doing things. This project has also taught me a lot about environmental science as a major. It gave me a deeper understanding to the things that environmental scientist and engineers do on a daily basis. If I could do this capstone over again, I would change the timespan of the project. Having the research conducted in two days was sufficient for the scale of this project however, with a greater timespan, we could most likely get more locations surveyed.

                My capstone has made SLA a better place because of the people that I have inspired. When underclassmen would ask me about my capstone, they were instantly intrigued that I got to lead and conduct a research project. This also allowed me to network people to bring about more resources and materials for science learning at SLA.