Nicole Woodworth '13
Students enrolled in Professor Michael Fenster’s Environmental Problem-Solving and
Coastal Geology classes had the opportunity to participate in the recent installation
of a groundwater well on campus. Fenster, the
Stephen H. Watts Professor of Science, explains how the well came about.
A Self-Sustaining System
“I realized that it made environmental and economic sense to use the free water
beneath campus for irrigation instead of using expensive premium city water,” says
Fenster. “Several years ago, alumni (including Scott Sutton ’87)
from Froehling and Robertson, Inc., the oldest independent environmental consulting
firm in the United States, as well as the Hatcher-Sayre Environmental Corporation,
donated funds to install three groundwater-monitoring wells near the Keeble Observatory.
Students in my Hydrology class conducted a series of hydrologic tests using the
wells to find out how much water the aquifer beneath campus could produce, and they
also produced an economic-impact analysis of using groundwater instead of city water
to garner support for the idea.”
Although residence halls have the highest consumption rates among buildings on campus,
students calculated that using the free groundwater below campus to irrigate parts
of campus would save the college between $80 and $400 every two-month billing cycle.
“At that rate, it won’t take long to pay for the well and start realizing savings,”
says Fenster. “The good news is, the water goes right back to where it came from
after it’s used to irrigate, so it’s a self-sustaining system.”
Mark Brabham, the assistant director of Project Management, and Eddie Thomas, the
auxiliary services supervisor of the Physical Plant, also encouraged the installation.
On February 14, 2013, Water Well Solutions, Inc. installed the first well for campus
use. The college plans to use this water initially to irrigate the grounds around
“Professor Fenster was integral in making the project successful,” says Brabham.
“I’m glad that students had a chance to witness and participate as well.”
Nicole Woodworth ’13 participated in the sampling and logging of
the geologic material within the well. Woodworth, an environmental studies major,
says that helping to drill the well was a “phenomenal” experience.
“As an environmental studies student,
it’s my goal to see how environmental projects are done by professionals in the
field,” says Woodworth. “Working with the Department of Environmental Quality hydrologist
gave me real-world experience in hydrogeology. I learned firsthand how a well is
installed, the kind of sedimentary and geophysical data that are available from
well installation, and the uses of the well and data.”
Unraveling R-MC’s Geologic History
Students enrolled in Fenster’s Coastal Geology class used geophysical logs and sediment
samples from the new well to unravel the seven-million-year old geologic history
“We used to have beaches, estuaries and coastal environments here back then and
that’s how we ended up with about 80 feet of sediments that now hold water beneath
campus,” says Fenster.
His Environmental Problem-Solving class is also involved in a groundwater project.
“This spring, my students are working with the Accomack-Northampton Planning District
Commission (PDC) and the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s Groundwater Committee to help
solve an environmental health problem in two of the poorest counties in Virginia,”
explains Fenster. “The class plans to begin the process of improving infrastructure
and mitigating environmental and health hazards in economically-disadvantaged communities
on the Eastern Shore. Many of the homes in these communities still don’t have indoor
plumbing. Students plan to assess the health risks posed to these people when they
drink groundwater from their wells located in the same area as their pit privies.
Students will recruit members from these communities to allow sampling of their
well water and to educate them at the end of the project about the environmental
health risks. And, as another benefit, the PDC plans to use my students’ work to
obtain grant money that will pay for the infrastructure needed to fix this problem.”
R-MC’s Strong Alumni Network
In January 2013, Froehling & Robertson employees Stephanie Golembeski ’97
and Grayson Henderson ’05 gave guidance to Jeb Weymouth ’13,
who participated in a January
Term internship at Froehling & Robertson.