‘Water for Health’ engagement with high school students from Governor’s School of Agriculture

I haven’t had this much fun teaching a class in a very long time. Twenty high school kids, part of the GSA summer school spent three days with Georgianna, Naerin, and me learning about water in dairy, food, and pipes.

Georgianna took them out to the dairy farm on Monday (7/21) where they saw the water reclamation facility and talked to them extensively about dairy production, the cows around them, and the critical role water plays in getting us rich, tasty milk and its products. In Georgianna’s words, “Great group of kids. Very curious! We did a QnA session after the tour and they asked some amazing questions.”

On Tuesday (7/22), Naerin talked to them about the critical role water plays in producing food products – and the hundreds of gallons of water it takes to produce hamburgers – among other things. They learnt about water activity and how microbe proliferation goes up in foods with a high water content and ways of getting past that to increase shelf life of foods. She showed them her own samples of green tea – she made from hard and soft water  – and the visual differences surprised many. References were made to different tastes of beer owing to hardness differences in the water used. Finally, in a master stroke, there was a blinded taste test where an overwhelming majority of the students picked Blacksburg Tap Water as tastier over Nestle Purified Water and Evian. She also talked about her own research on light effects in supermarket cold storage on food and her current research that looks at green tea.

I also got a chance to engage students and talked about some of the grand challenges we as a global society face – like waterborne diseases, water reuse, climate change, droughts/floods, water crises across borders, etc. – when it comes to access and availability of drinking water. We talked about how water gets to us, its treatment, the cost it entails. Then we moved onto corrosion in pipelines and how that hampers water quality. We went back 200 years into the past talking about times where disinfection and good sanitation wasn’t the norm and how having them completely altered our public health outlook and gave us a safe society. Finally, students cheered for two of their peers who competed neck to neck blowing into flasks filled with pink water (phenolphthalein-added for pH 10 waters) via straws trying to make the water colorless. The one with low alkalinity became colorless pretty soon while the other with high alkalinity didn’t. We then talked about carbonate chemistry ruling the water system worldwide and how increasing CO2 in the air decreases ocean pH harming coral reefs.

Finally, today, we gave them a tour of the New River Valley Water Authority – Water Treatment Plant – and it was an unconventional experience. They saw a filter being backwashed and cleaned and asked a ton of questions ranging from water costs and pipe material to the West Virginia Chemical spill and water testing.

We’d like to thank Adam Cletzer and Garrett Compton – the TAs, Dr. Friedel for giving us this opportunity, Mr. Caleb Taylor from the NRV Water Treatment Plant for all his help and a fantastic tour, Shane for an engaging trip around the Tech dairy farm, Sheldon Masters, Katherine Phetxumphou, Dr. Andrea Dietrich and Dr. Brenda Davy for suggestions towards brewing an engaged three days suitable for the very smart group of kids. We loved the students and the countless questions they asked, their wide-eyed curiosity and openness to experience new things. We look forward to doing this again next year.

GSA kids pose for a group photo after a tour of the NRV Water Treatment Plant (7/23/14)
GSA kids pose for a group photo after a tour of the NRV Water Treatment Plant (7/23/14) Photo courtesy: Adam Cletzer


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4 thoughts on “‘Water for Health’ engagement with high school students from Governor’s School of Agriculture

  1. Kudos to Sid, Naerin and Georgianna – three of our water INTERface program graduate students, who led the Virginia Governor’s School for Agriculture on a three-day “water and health” experience! I am sure that your enthusiasm for the aspects of water and health that you discussed with the students was contagious! Fantastic blog article, Sid!

  2. It really was a great experience. I’m so impressed by how curious these students were. I’m happy I had the chance to help! Sid, thanks for the awesome blog post!

  3. Go Team! I am glad you had a successful experience with the students and they were engaged in learning more about how water influences our disciplines… and lives.

  4. Great article Roy! I was impressed to these certain young students who were able to conduct an observation regarding to the importance of water in terms to agriculture. It’r really great to let them gather the ideas regarding to this matters and make them aware for it. I know there’s a lot of fun in learning things about agriculture. Kudos to you!

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