Sara Eckard

Testing the Waters of Frederick

As part of the Hood College Summer Research Institute this year, Sara Eckard ’16 completed research for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to determine the safety of water in Frederick County. She found above-average levels of harmful bacteria in several freshwater streams.

Eckard, a biology major and coastal studies minor, completed the work under the supervision of Drew Ferrier, Ph.D., professor of biology and director of the coastal studies program. Eckard wanted to do something science-related during the summer, so she accepted Ferrier’s request for her to work in his lab.

The Summer Research Institute gives students the opportunity to work with faculty advisers on a research project. The projects involve laboratory or field work for eight weeks during the summer. The SRI provides students with a $2,500 stipend and free housing.

Eckard got hands-on experience in several areas, including building temperature monitors and deploying them, but her main project was taking the lead on the enterococcus bacterial monitoring for the CBF.

The goal of the project was to determine what was in the water and make people aware of it.

“We want everyone in this community, from citizens to lawmakers, to really think about what they can do to be better stewards of our waterways,” said Eckard.

She tested the water at six sites in Frederick County that are not designated recreational areas but that people do use to swim and fish. After rainstorms and during dry periods—periods of at least 72 hours free of rain—she took water samples, cultured them, incubated them and reported to the CBF how many harmful bacteria she found. The bacteria levels were well above what the EPA recommends as safe for swimming, and the CBF posted the numbers on its website to inform the public. While the bacteria are not life threatening, they can cause upset stomachs or intestinal problems if ingested.

The CBF sent out a press release to local news sources about the high levels of bacteria in the water, and Eckard’s findings have been reported in articles from the Frederick News-Post, the Baltimore Sun and WHAG in Hagerstown.

“I think the most valuable aspect was getting to do something that really matters and affects the community,” said Eckard.

In addition to helping the CBF, her experience helped her learn about biological research.

“I got a lot of hydrology field experience, bacterial plating and procedure experience, as well as experience in project management,” she said. “I have doubled my skill set and am more confident in the lab.”

Eckard was also able to develop an independent study from her experience, which she is continuing this semester.

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