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A group of five Lafayette students under the guidance of Roger Ruggles, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, is visiting Uganda this summer and collecting data on how agricultural intrusion is affecting local wetlands.

Part of the EXCEL project is taking place on Lafayette’s campus and the rest will be on-site at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

In Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

Ruggles says the project is funded by the National Science Foundation and will build upon a 2004 visit to the country by Lafayette students where initial data was collected.

“The initial and still current goal of the project is two fold,” he says. “First is to research the wetland areas in Uganda and second is to provide an intercultural experience for all participants.”

The data collection will center on Lake Victoria in Uganda and will include baseline water quality measurements as well as gathering information in an attempt to understand how the wetlands are working in terms of cleaning the sewage that is expelled from the nearby city of Kampala, Ruggles says.

“This project is conducting research on an important issue in the developing world. We are finding that wetlands not only improve the quality of water but are also like sponges that absorb water and then slowly release it,” he says. “This results in flow in streams and rivers during the dry season. Due to population increases, which impact deforestation, agricultural intrusion into wetlands, and the waste stream, we are seeing decreased base flows in streams, which may result in no flow during the dry season. This is a critical issue in many developing countries.”

The students joining Ruggles on the trip are: Marquis Scholars and civil and environmental engineering majors David Kendall ’08 (Lebanon, Pa.), Christa Kelleher ’08 (Tigard, Ore.), and R.J. Sindelar ’08 (Houston, Texas), civil and environmental engineering major Bailey Simone ’08 (Westfield, Mass.), and English and art double major Karen Ruggles ’08 (Easton, Pa.).

Each student is assigned different roles for the project, and will be responsible for an individual research paper upon completion of the program.

According to Simone, the research, while interesting, isn’t simple.

“I’m working on methods for delineating wetlands, especially based on wetland hydrology and vegetation. It’s difficult because in the U.S. the steps are laid out, but in Uganda there are still a lot of discrepancies in delineating wetlands,” she says.

Students involved in the project note that assessing the water in Lake Victoria is the most important part of the project.

Rugglessays natural water sources in Africa are much different than in the United States.

“Since the incredible population influx in Kampala since the 1970’s, the wetlands, which used to be used as a wastewater treatment system, have become extremely overused,” she says. “This created a strain on the environment as well as the population. In turn, the water became polluted, thus, polluting the crops watered by these wetlands.”

“We’re hoping to assess the water quality of Lake Victoria and also the wetlands that surround the lake,” Simone says.

Kellehersays having each student focus on different portions of the overall project is important in the final analysis.

“I am focusing on Ugandan wetland policies and their implementation, which has been a challenge due to the way that wetlands have traditionally been viewed,” she says.

Students are also excited about visiting a continent, and country, much different from the United States.

Sindelarsays the experience will not only allow him to work on an important project, but also provide him with a chance to immerse himself in a new culture.

“It will also serve as a good cultural experience,” he says. “Africa is a vastly different continent from the U.S., so I’m looking forward to getting to work with Ugandan students and getting to know the land. I’m also looking forward to the great photography.”

“We’re getting the chance to work with people who live in a third world country,” says Simone. “I think it will open our eyes to other ways and means of life.”

“I think, by spending time at Makerere University and working alongside the students, we’re really going to be exploring a lot of the stigmas that we, as Americans, have associated with a third world nation,” Kelleher says.

Professor Ruggles has played a major leadership role in obtaining grants from the National Science Foundation totaling more than $450,000. He has presented research at the American Society of Civil Engineers EWRI World Water and Environmental Resources Congress, American Society of Agricultural Engineers Annual International Meeting, and the first International Conference on Geospatial Information in Agriculture and Forestry.

Categorized in: Academic News