2018 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: University Of The South

Citizen Monitoring of Water Pollution in China

Mentors: Scott Howard Wilson, Professor of Politics; Deborah McGrath, Professor of Biology
Students: Jasmine Huang, Wint Myat Thu, Caroline Wright, Alyssa Marie Holley, and Magdelene Isabel Smith

Water pollution and the resulting shortage of potable water imperils global sustainability. As a result of its intensive industrialization, China has experienced declining water quality and a severe water shortage. Jiangsu Province, which was a leader in rural industrialization in the 1980s and 1990s, exemplifies China’s problems with polluted surface and groundwater. In 2014, Jiangsu Province’s Environmental Protection Bureau began a program to work with nongovernmental organizations to monitor water pollution levels in its rivers as a means to improve enforcement of water pollution regulations. The proposed research will analyze the citizen water monitoring project in Nanjing, Jiangsu and surrounding areas. By doing so, student and faculty fellows will address a global problem in the context of China. Working with faculty at Nanjing University and local resident committees that participate in water monitoring, the researchers will answer the following questions: Has the citizen water monitoring created pressure to lower the pollution levels in the monitored rivers? Has the citizen water monitoring program raised participants’ consciousness about water pollution?

During June-July 2018, student and faculty fellows will conduct approximately 24 days of research in Nanjing and Wuxi, collecting water samples, analyzing samples and data on past samples, and interviewing citizens about their roles in water monitoring programs. The scientific and social scientific research for the project will put students into close interaction and collaboration with the local population and scientists from Nanjing University. Through their study of pollution abatement and public participation programs, as well as water sampling and analyses of pollutants, students will gain practical experience and skills applicable to work in environmental science and project management. The research group will report their findings in three forms: a student-run blog, a preliminary report to The University of the South community, and a panel presentation at a regional Asian Studies conference. The process of analyzing data, writing reports, and making presentations are further skills to be used in future vocations related to environmental sustainability.

The Sewanee research at the Ming Tombs in Nanjing, Jiangsu, China.

Alyssa Holley

From June 19 th to July 15 th of 2018, I had the amazing opportunity of going to China with Dr. Scott Wilson, Dr. Deborah McGrath, and four other students to conduct wet lab research on water samples, from across the Jiangsu Province. During our time there, we were able to collect scientific data, as well as, survey citizens’ participation in the overarching issue of water pollution within China. Through this project, we were able to better understand the current global issue of pollution within the Asian context, specifically with the ramifications of pollution within China. We were also able to develop practical and professional skills within communication and research throughout this project. Through this project, we have been able to better understand how to communicate with a wide variety of people, from students and faculty at Nanjing University, to everyday citizens within Nanjing and Wuxi, and more. The wet lab work we conducted throughout the trip, allowed us to further develop our critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills throughout and beyond this project. All of the students were exposed to problems we had not previously encountered, overall allowing us to further enhance our complex problem solving skills. The faculty mentoring allowed us to have more exposure in this project, and guided us to understand best practices when it came to how to conduct the research.

Sewanee Professor Deborah McGrath and one of our hosts from Nanjing University’s Institute of Environmental Studies collecting water quality data using a probe at a creek near the Nanjing University campus.

Jasmine Huang

Since September 15 2018, we have done a number of activities that range from writing papers to attending and presenting at conferences. Through these initiatives, I have been able to gain a new understanding of Asia in relation to the professional and academic context. Through the project and our assignments, I have also grown as a student; typing up literature reviews and practicing my presentations have prepared me as I look beyond my university for opportunities. During the spring 2019 semester, I was able to travel to two conferences to make presentations on the research conducted during summer 2018. Presenting at the two conferences was eye opening for me. When I went to the Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in Memphis, I found myself looking at a vast number of people equally invested in the history, science, and literature of a country I had always associated with my family and heritage.

Sewanee students interviewing the leader of Greenstone Environmental Protection Center, an environmental NGO based in Nanjing.

At the second conference, hosted by ASIANetwork, I was able to meet many of the other faculty and students who participated in the SFF program and to hear about their experiences in other parts of Asia. Altogether, I was able to gain new insight into the world of academia and build connections with people who share similar interests. Although I am unsure as to whether or not I wish to pursue the field of scholarly research, the conversations I had with participants solidified my decision to pursue my professional career within the scope of Asia. My experience conducting research in Nanjing and Wuxi led me to apply for an independent research fellowship and a Critical Language Scholarship, both to go to China. I will go to China this summer on the CLS program run by the State Department. During the upcoming semester, I will be studying abroad in Nepal and learning Tibetan and Nepali. In the next five or six years or so, I hope to combine all the experiences I have accumulated and find a career that will carry me forward as I have found in the opportunities with ASIANetwork.

Sewanee Professors Deborah McGrath and Scott Wilson and one of our hosts from Nanjing University’s Institute of Environmental Studies collecting a water sample and water quality data using a probe at a creek near the Nanjing University campus.

Isabel Smith

During the summer 2018, I participated in a research project on Chinese water pollution and attempts to mitigate. My work consisted of water sampling and wet lab analyses. Since September 2018, I have worked with Dr. McGrath to compile articles dealing with water pollution and mitigation in China. My summer research project has allowed me to achieve almost all of the SFF Core ideas. Through the study of China’s water scarcity and water pollution issues, I had the ability to learn more about current global issues in an Asian context. This research also allowed me to view the steps the Chinese are taking to restore historical bodies of water and improve the water quality in other bodies of water. Collecting surveys filled out by citizens and conduct research with the graduate students and professors at Nanjing University has allowed me to both interact and collaborate with the people of Asia. I spent my whole summer in the lab conducting research, which allowed me to improve my ability to communicate and work with a team, analyze data, learn what it is like to work at and collaborate with a different institution. My research this summer, allowed me to learn more about water pollution, explore a new field of environmental science, and learn new analytical lab techniques that would be useful in my future career. In the future, I want to work for a government agency like NOAA, conducting environmental research and helping to mitigate problems like water pollution and climate change. This experience has shown me what it is like to collect samples in the field and analyze them to gather clues that allow you to learn more about what is going on in the environment. I know this experience has equipped me with knowledge that I can bring back to the U.S. and potentially use in the future to help mitigate our water pollution problem.

Sewanee students working with hosts from Nanjing University’s Institute of Environmental Studies on analyses of water samples.

Wint Thu

During the summer of 2018, I participated in a research project funded by ASIANetwork on studying water pollution in China in collaboration with Nanjing University. The interdisciplinary nature of this project exposed me to both the scientific and social aspects of water pollution and environmental governance in China. This experience in China enabled me to witness water pollution that resulted from industrial production, and its impacts on the local population. In addition, I learned the efforts of NGOs, citizens, and the municipal government to remedy pollution in various bodies of water over the past few years in Jiangsu. Our survey work in China reaffirmed my proclivity for fieldwork, and that I would like to engage myself in a similar type of research in the future, beyond statistical analyses of data. After graduating from college, I will join the Ph.D. program in economics at University of Arizona specializing in environmental and resource economics. The skills that I obtained from this research project will immensely help with my future research in many ways.

Wint Thu and one of our hosts from Nanjing University’s Institute of Environmental Studies collecting a water sample from Li Hu in Wuxi, Jiangsu, China.

Caroline Wright

Over the summer, four other students and I conducted an interdisciplinary research project studying water pollution, restoration efforts, and citizen based environmental activism projects in China. To understand China’s water pollution, we collected water samples from restored waterways and lakes, as well as non-restored. By taking samples from water systems in both categories, we were better able to understand China’s current state of pollution, as well as have an insight into current environmental efforts, and a basis for what China’s water will be like in years to come. We were mainly focused on testing for nutrient pollutants, such as Nitrogen and Phosphate. These analyses are useful in identifying excessive runoff, agricultural waste, or excessive plant and algae growth. By analyzing both restored and unrestored water, we were able to get an idea of natural occurring nutrient pollution versus human related pollution.

Sewanee students, Caroline Wright and Jasmine Huang and Professor Deborah McGrath collecting water samples from the Yangzi River in Nanjing.

In conjunction to running water chemistry, our team also focused on local participation and interest in curving China’s water pollution. In our interviews, we learned that the great majority of environmental NGOs are underfunded, understaffed, and most have poor volunteer retention. The extensive hours I have spent in the laboratory during this project have provided me with excellent hands-on problem-solving experience. While studying the bacteria in the water in China, I decided to develop a project in Sewanee studying how different bacterial populations impact wetland systems.

Sewanee student, Christina Xu, waiting for Wuxi residents to complete an environmental survey.