News: College students trade books for boots during Corps wetlands exercise
Story by Tracy Robillard
SAVANNAH, Ga. - What do you get when you combine 18 college students, 7 federal regulators, and a wetland? For students at Savannah State University, it was a chance to learn about the expertise needed to delineate and protect wetlands across the state of Georgia.
The students tested their abilities to identify wetlands during a field exercise hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District Regulatory Division, May 16.
Regulators with the Corps explained the Department of the Army permitting process and how to identify types of wetlands based on soil conditions, plant growth, and the presence or absence of other determining factors.
The session was part of Savannah State’s PRISM program—Proactive Recruitment for Introductory Science and Mathematics. Now in its fourth year, the program aims to increase the number of freshmen and sophomore students majoring in math and science disciplines at SSU and support them through graduation and to successful entry into graduate school or professional careers.
PRISM students receive academic scholarships to fund their education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career fields, said Dawn Howard, program coordinator.
The Corps has an ongoing partnership with the university to contribute to outreach and education activities in STEM fields of study. A member of the Corps Savannah District has served on the program's external advisory committee since it began four years ago, Howard said. The Corps also organizes a site visit every year during the summer portion of the program.
"It was an incredible success and allowed students to better understand and appreciate their own environment while offering an opportunity to learn more about the Corps," Howard said.
Quanesha Williams, a rising junior chemistry major, said she was surprised to learn the extent of the Corps' various missions.
"I knew they [the Corps] were military people, but I didn't know they did work with wetlands," she said. "It's cool. It's been really interesting."
Llorr Robinson, a rising junior and computer engineering major, said he enjoyed learning about indentifying different types of soils and plants.
"It was interesting seeing this aspect of science compared to my studies in computer engineering," he said.
The Corps’ Savannah District manages permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act for any projects affecting U.S. waters within the state of Georgia. The Corps is responsible for protecting aquatic resources and making fair and balanced permitting decisions, while allowing reasonable development.
"When people ask what I do, I usually say I protect our nation's water; and they think of me in a Zodiac with a 50-caliber machine gun roving our waterways," said Forrest Vanderbilt, a regulatory specialist with the Corps who helped instruct the students.
While he might enjoy that analogy, Vanderbilt sums up his point more accurately. “Wetlands provide free functions and services to the public, such as nutrient cycling, fish and wildlife habitat, aesthetics and flood risk reduction," he said.
Vanderbilt is one of 36 members of the Corps' Savannah District regulatory team. Like many of his coworkers, he possesses a genuine love for the outdoors and an outgoing personality.
"We want to ensure that when development does occur on a public resource like a wetland, we can first avoid, then minimize the impact through appropriate planning; and compensate for the impact through proper mitigation through the permitting process," he said.
The Savannah District is designated as a Regional Center of Technical Expertise for natural resource mitigation banking in the southeast U.S. The District is leveraged to assist federal, state and local agencies and governments with establishing mitigation programs, as well as facilitating set-up and management discussions with the mitigation banking industry.
Learn more about the Savannah District Regulatory program (and check out the interactive Regulatory avatar) at www.sas.usace.army.mil/regulatory