GetWET Observatory water education facility turns high school students into field scientists

By: Steve Wednesday May 7, 2014 Tags: Andrew Warnock, Cristina Windsor, Fort Collins, GetWET Observatory, In-Situ

By Steve Porter


FORT COLLINS - Students from Roosevelt High School in Johnstown were able to get their feet, hands and minds wet Tuesday during a field trip to the GetWET Observatory on the banks of Spring Creek in Fort Collins.

Teams of students sampled water from six specially drilled wells, looking for groundwater levels, dissolved oxygen levels, salt content and water transparency.

The teams also found individual locations to bring back data on stream velocity and discharge and sediment content. Later, they would compare notes to make a map of the movement of water through the GetWET outdoor classroom.

Andrew Warnock, director of the Colorado State University College of Natural Sciences Education and Outreach Center, said the idea behind the hands-on water data collection exercise was to give students a taste of what being a field scientist is like.

"We just spent time doing a groundwater model," said Warnock of the indoor class the students just came from. "Then we come out here and see how water is moving in the real world."

"It's cool to be doing hands-on stuff," said student Harley Miller, as her group sampled water from the fast-moving Spring Creek.

Asked if he might want to be a field scientist someday, Brody Adkisson said it had some appeal. "I think it's better than being behind a desk," he said.

In 2006, In-Situ Inc. - a Fort Collins-based water that designs and manufactures groundwater monitoring equipment - donated state-of-the-art water quality sensors, a low-flow sampling system and a field computer for accessing real-time data and downloading logged data.

In-Situ said the donation was money well invested.

"To expose students to innovative technologies for monitoring groundwater, In-Situ Inc. donates equipment to geology and hydrogeology programs like CSU's GetWET Observatory," said Cristina Windsor, In-Situ's marketing director.

"Students who have an opportunity to use technology are better prepared for their careers."

Since 2006, thousands of high school and post-high school students - an estimated 800 each year - have attended outdoor classes at the GetWET campus just south of the Hilton Hotel.

Trevor Long, Roosevelt High School principal, said the school's freshman STEM class is focused on sustainability, water and natural resources.

Long said the partnership with CSU that allows Colorado high school students to use the GetWET facility was appreciated.

"We're really happy to be partnering with CSU to make this happen," he said. "Our whole purpose and goal is to give these kids an opportunity to integrate math and science and engineering into their studies."

The GetWET Observatory is the only outdoor hands-on water education facility in the Rocky Mountain region.

Warnock told the Roosevelt students the observatory classroom, constructed on CSU-owned land with CSU-based instructors, aims to give participants some insight into college and science.

"We want to show you what it's like to be a college student, because these are the kinds of experiments freshman college students would do," he said.

"We also want to show you what it's like to be a scientist," Warnock added. "You have no idea what the outcome will be, because it (water factors) changes from day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year.

"That's the joy of science -- sharing your data with others," he said. "That's the kind of thing scientists do all the time."

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