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Moravian College

Catalina Perez '18

"The Effects of Dams on River Water Quality"

Major & Minor: Biology Major
Hometown: Easton, PA
Project Advisor(s): Dr. Frank Kuserk


Tell us about your research.

My research was regarding the study of 3 dams in Pennsylvania and how they affect the surrounding aquatic ecosystem in the Lehigh River Watershed. I conducted my research by biomonitoring benthic macroinvertebrates and using the Hilsenhoff Biotic Index to calculate water quality.

How did it materialize? (E.g., did you pitch the idea and choose a
faculty member, or did they come to you with an idea?)

I went to Dr. Kuserk and expressed my interest in the SOAR program. He suggested that I work on this project which he has been working on since 2009.

What was the best part about working with your faculty advisor? What valuable insights did they bring to the research process?

My favorite part about working with Dr. Kuserk was how much he pushed me to consider graduate schools. I had him for a couple classes and picked him as my advisor because I am interested in ecology, but he really saw the potential in me and told me to stretch. I didn’t think graduate school would be for me because of my financial situation but he showed me some ways to go around tuition and get funded for my research while working on a degree. I have started to reach out to a handful of professors at other universities to determine which graduate school I will be attending Fall 2018.

What was your biggest obstacle?

The biggest obstacle we faced this summer was at the Maple Preserve dam site. It was so remote that we could hardly make it over the terrain with our van. Also, I found 11 ticks on me that day and brought one home by mistake.

What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?

My biggest takeaway was working in the field and lab. I know I was never the type to sit still and an office/lab setting never works for me. My internship last summer however was all outside work and brutal. Being outdoors 8 hours a day, 5 days a week is difficult because you have to prepare for summer’s worst weather. I love that in ecology you get the best of both worlds. I still get to work on the field but when it’s 95 degrees or severely thunder-storming I get to work inside in the lab.

What was the result of your research? 

This summer I only had time to analyze my first dam site (Klondike Property). The results show that my hypothesis is correct; the water below the dam has more environmental stressors than above the dam because the intervening lake increases water temperature and changes water chemistry. I do have to go back and recalculate my data because I later realized that I mislabeled some families. Who knew Chironomidae make cases like Trichoptera?

Now that SOAR is over, do you plan to expand upon your research? If so, where would you like to see it go? 

I plan to expand my research into an Honor’s project my senior year. I hope to analyze the data we collected from the last 2 dam sites and see if my hypotheses were correct.

In your own words, how do you feel about being rewarded this opportunity? Why should other students take advantage of the SOAR program? 

I feel inspired by the SOAR program at Moravian College. Not only were the other students’ research projects interesting to learn about, but I finally have a direction after I graduate Moravian. I truly benefited from one-on-one daily interaction with my advisor and now have a good sense of the field I wish to study. I encourage others to take advantage of this opportunity to fully understand what research looks like in their field and see if this is something that inspires them.