W&J junior Renee Novak stands in reflective gear in wetlands.

Wading in wetlands: environmental science major gets acquainted with aquatic ecology

Created: October 11, 2022  |  Last Updated: November 22, 2022  |  Category:   |  Tagged: , ,

WASHINGTON, PA (October 11, 2022)—If water is necessary to sustain life, then W&J junior Renee Novak is an expert on living.

An environmental science major and member of the convergent activists’ team at W&J, Novak spent the summer serving as an environmental scientist intern at Hunt Valley Environmental (HVE)—an environmental consulting and engineering company in New Stanton, Pennsylvania—working on wetland mitigation banking, and monitoring and maintaining wetlands.

Wetland mitigation banking is a resource-based credit system which allows developers to substitute aquatic resources they may damage in construction projects, with similar resources they buy, to ensure the preservation of ecological resources.

Of course, in order for those resources to be available for purchase, wetlands must receive care. Leaning on experience from her water ecology research course with Associate Professor of Biology, James March, Ph.D., Novak helped provide that care at HVE.

“I truly loved my internship,” said Novak, noting that she primarily sampled soil and identified native and invasive vegetation, as well as signs of hydrology (the distribution and movement of water). “Monitoring these areas took me to several locations across Pennsylvania, including the State Game Lands…[and] experiencing the sun rising every morning and feeling the morning chill give way to mid-day heat was a grounding experience.”

Though that heat often transformed to a less welcome humidity, Novak found passion in the pools and ponds she patrolled.

“This internship affirmed that environmental science is the right major for me,” she said. “I saw instances of severe erosion…with almost crater-like streams running through land. The conservation of water—making sure we limit the amount of sediment being deposited in water—is very important.”

Important enough to pursue, it seems.

“I’m still undecided on specific career goals,” Novak said, “but my internship reaffirmed my desire to work in, and with, the environment.”

Novak attributed that affirmation to March, who pushed her to apply for internships and regularly provided resources to support her success. Following his advice and guidance, she found direction for her future.

“As a first-year student just entering college, I was unaware of the opportunities that existed within environmental science,” Novak said. “Now, with an internship and several ecology/biology classes under my belt, I have…an idea of what I want for my life after graduation.”

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, proudly located in Washington, Pa., is a historic liberal arts college founded in 1781 that values ethical leadership, professional readiness, and inclusive communities. Our highly customized and intellectually engaging student experience develops professionals of uncommon integrity to lead in an ever-changing world. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu or call 888-W-AND-JAY.