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MC partners with community for Aqua Project

Barry McNamara
The 6-foot tank at its new home at the Warren County Public Library.
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When equipment is moved this summer from Monmouth College’s Haldeman-Thiessen Science Center to its new Center for Science and Business, a piece that will not be making the trip is a 6-foot fish tank. Instead, the tank and an accompanying 3-foot filter system have found their way to the Warren County Public Library as part of a citizenship project initiated by assistant professor of chemistry Brad Sturgeon.
“We had a very large display tank that was originally used for horseshoe crabs,” said Sturgeon. “For the type of research we do with our students, we really need smaller tanks. The larger tank is functional, but not necessarily needed in the new building, and we haven’t used it in HT for at least four years. So we began to think of where a better home for it might be.”
Sturgeon decided that preparing the tank for transport, moving it to the public library and creating an educational project would be a way for his students to meet the college’s citizenship goals.
The tank was moved to the library earlier this month, and “fish will show up” in March, including native species like bluegills and darters. Associate professor of biology Kevin Baldwin is heading up that part of the interdisciplinary project.
“There are about 800 species of freshwater fish in North America,” said Baldwin. “Our hope is to show off some local species and educate people about them. Our challenges will be to create enough microhabitats and hiding places in the tank to allow them to thrive and coexist while demonstrating the diversity of flow regimes in aquatic ecosystems and the corresponding biodiversity.” 
In addition to getting his students involved with the community, Sturgeon is pleased with the way the “WCPL Aqua Project” is showcasing the talents of community members.
“People often look to the college for expertise in certain areas, but this project is pulling people together from throughout the community,” he said.
For example, Sturegon said, local teacher Peggy Kulczewski is helping to align the goals of the Aqua Project to meet state standards so schools can use it as a science resource.
“They’ll be able to have programs about water, fish and aquatic systems,” he said.
Youth librarian Julie Dorn is helping to market the opportunity to library patrons and the community, while local carpenter Tim Narkiewicz was also involved, helping prepare the library to house a 210-gallon tank, since the water filling it will literally weigh “a ton.”
In terms of academics, Sturgeon said his students are learning about sustainability in addition to the dynamics of organizing a community project. One of his assignments, he said, is teaching the students the ecosystem of the tank and then having them draw a picture of the “ecosystem” of their own life.
Sturgeon, who has a strong interest in water and water quality, enjoyed working on the tank’s filter, calling the system “extremely cool.”
In addition to the community aspect and the outreach to local schools, Sturgeon said the project was started “to bring attention to the importance of water in our community and to allow for a deeper level of scientific appreciation associated with aquatic systems.”