-story by Lena Wallace '14
Gowan and students at Mechumps Creek
Randolph-Macon College Biology and
Environmental Studies Professor Chas. Gowan is looking forward to another
environmental studies mission. Students from R-MC will soon have the opportunity
to participate with students and faculty from Virginia Commonwealth University,
Washington and Lee University and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in a collaborative
James River water-quality program.
About the Project
According to “From the Mountains to the Sea: A Proposal for an Innovative Water-Quality
Network in the James River, Virginia,” R-MC students will work on the five-year
project to better understand how sub-watersheds in a large river ecosystem individually
and collectively affect water quality from the mountains to the sea. Additionally,
the project will raise awareness of water quality issues in the James River and
Chesapeake Bay. “There is no east coast synoptic water-quality network that links
mountain landscape to marine waters,” explains Gowan. “This project will establish
such a network.”
Teaching and Research
Gowan recently taught a First-Year Experience course (FYE),
Irreplaceable Resources : Recording our History, Mapping our Environment, with Archaeology Professor Elizabeth
Fisher. Projects included an archaeological excavation in Hanover County at an Antebellum
Plantation. Gowan says that students used Geographic Information System (GIS) technology
to locate and map hidden artifacts and slave quarters.
Throughout the academic school year, Gowan teaches Integrative Biology, Biostatistics,
Ichthyology, Freshwater Ecology and a series of Environmental Problem Solving classes.
In addition, he continues his research with fish—particularly trout.
“My work in Virginia has focused on how individual trout learn to recognize each
other, and how this learning affects how they interact when they compete for food
and space,” says Gowan. “It turns out that trout are really smart.” Gowan’s recent
trout publications have caught the attention of The Psychology Progress
and The Journal of Fish Biology.
In 2009, Gowan received a $115,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
(NFWF). The Town of Ashland supported his efforts with an additional $100,000 to
help restore Mechumps Creek located in Ashland, Virginia.
“The NFWF has been a consistent supporter of R-MC’s efforts to restore and protect
our local watershed, allowing us to both help the environment and to train students
in state-of-the-art environmental techniques,” says Gowan. The Mechumps Creek project
is ongoing. “An interpretive sign is about to be installed for the public,” he explains.
The sign, titled “Mechumps Creek: An Environmental Success Story,” explains how
parking lots, roads and roofs are harmful to creeks and how Mechumps Creek was restored
through this partnership. The sign was made possible by a grant from Wal-Mart.
In 2008, Gowan was awarded the Paul H. Wornom, M.D., Professorship in Biological
Sciences. He is the former director of the FYE program and served on the Committee
on Admissions, Credits, and Academic Status of Students. He now serves on the Curriculum
Committee and is chair of the biology department.
Gowan joined the faculty at Randolph-Macon College in 1996. He earned his B.S. from
the State University of New York, his M.S. from Michigan State University and his
Ph.D. from Colorado State University.
“One of the most rewarding experiences is working with students individually and
seeing them achieve their dreams—and then hearing about their accomplishments after
college,” he says.