Sierra Kindley ’19 did something no one had done here before. She collected samples from 21 sites in the local Mississippi River watershed and found them all higher in heavy metals than is safe for aquatic life.
For her research, Kindley won best student poster presentation at the 49th annual meeting of the Mississippi River Research Consortium in La Crosse, Wisconsin, this spring. Her work is titled “Environmental Geochemistry of Surface and Groundwater in Streams: The Study of an Urban Watershed in Rock Island, Illinois.”
Her research analyzed the levels of four heavy metals (As, Hg, Pb, and Se) in surface and groundwater in a local watershed along the Mississippi River. She found that average concentrations of all four metals at sites throughout the watershed were higher than the standards for freshwater life established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Kindley presented at the Consortium meeting along with college students and field professionals from across the Mississippi River region, including other Augustana students. After seeing the impressive research of her peers, Kindley was shocked to take best student poster presentation.
“I consider it an honor. It’s certainly a nice culminating moment for the hard work that has gone into and valuable information that has come out of our research,” she said.
Going ‘out there’ to learn
Kindley was able to develop her research project while interning at the Upper Mississippi Center for Sustainable Communities (UMC) on Augustana’s campus during the summer before her sophomore year. She says she couldn’t have done it without her research advisors and fellow students at the UMC.
“My UMC internship has definitely been a highlight of my Augustana experience,” Kindley said. “I think, too, just the numerous opportunities I have been presented to work in the field during my first two years here at Augie…these are opportunities not found everywhere, and definitely not this early in a college career.”
At Augustana, Kindley has been able to “not only look at a picture in a text book, but actually go out there and learn about concepts firsthand,” as she has interned, presented and traveled. She has been able to study abroad in Asia and go on numerous excursions with the geology department, as well.
This summer, Kindley is interning with RiverLink, an environmental nonprofit based in Asheville, North Carolina, that works to revitalize another important river, the French Broad.
In the future, Kindley has graduate school to look forward to, likely combining her interests in geology and freshwater resources. Looking ahead, she’d like to work with another nonprofit or state department on water resources management and conservation.
“I’m interested in nurturing my passion for the natural world, combining geology and ecology, to continue thinking about how we can be good stewards of the environment and actively address environmental issues,” she said. “I’m excited to continue on the path that has already been forged a little bit for me.”
Story by Sabrina Hill ’18