Research is fun: Water club students use passion, data to help community

5 – minute read

When you think of college students having fun, an image of friends chatting, a night on the town, or, perhaps, enjoying a concert comes to mind. For senior Samantha Grisso and other FGCU American Water Research Association students, fun looks a little different.


At least once a month, with an alligator spotter close by, you’ll see Grisso step into tan waders and immerse herself in waist-deep water. As lead researcher for the student chapter of AWRA, the data Grisso and her fellow students collect are used for valuable research.


“We monitor the hydrology,” she said. “That includes ponds, groundwater and our surrounding wetlands. This helps us determine how well our campus does in mitigating flooding.”

Importance of campus hydrology

For a community still reeling from the devastating flood brought about by the surge from Hurricane Ian one year ago, flood mitigation is at the top of everyone’s mind.


“All this data is to support the claim that future land use development should take these things into consideration in preserving some of the wetlands that we have here in Florida to help mitigate inland flooding,” said Grisso.

Don Duke, a professor of water resources and the chair of the Department of Ecology and Environmental Studies at The Water School, is the club’s advisor.


“The work that the water resources club has been doing since 2017 is deceptively simple,” he said. “We’re measuring the elevation of the ponds on campus, and we look at rain gauges.”

FGCU student
The data students collect helps determine how well the campus mitigates flooding.
FGCU student
The water resources club has been collecting campus data since 2017.

Open spaces on campus help mitigate flooding

FGCU sits on about 800 acres, 400 of which are open spaces for wetlands. Through years of data collection, Duke and the students found the open, undeveloped space — not the ponds — are crucial for flood control. Research conducted by Duke alongside water club students who just graduated was published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association.


“Our data have documented, unequivocally, at this point, the way that the flood mitigation succeeded here on the campus is because of all the open space,” said Duke.


The relevant, impactful research keeps club president Henna Gavem coming back each year.


“We are able to do really unique work here in monitoring how the water is moving throughout campus,” the senior explained. “So, we really get a good spatial understanding as well as a geographical understanding of how the water is moving about.”

FGCU student
At least once a month, Samantha Grisso and other members of FGCU’s American Water Research Association chapter immerse themselves in campus ponds and wetlands in the name of research.

The FGCU AWRA student chapter has received numerous awards for its work. In November, Grisso and Duke plan to attend the National AWRA conference, where Grisso will present her research and accept the 2023 N. Earl Spangenberg Outstanding Student Chapter Award.


Gavem says along with the camaraderie she shares with the other club members, she is getting valuable networking opportunities. Sitting on the planning committee for the Southwest Florida Water Resources Conference, which will be hosted on campus later this year, puts her in front of industry leaders every month. But it’s not all about the numbers for the group.


“I like to have fun. We do wet walks and that kind of stuff,” she said.


Standing next to one of the gauges at a pond behind Whitaker Hall, Grisso echoes the sentiment.


“The club is just fun. It gives me experience in the field,” she said. “Being connected with my AWRA community has given me a sense of community.”


Through that sense of community and the love of science, FGCU students like Grisso and Gavem will continue traipsing through campus ponds daily, gathering data and proving that research is fun.

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