Summer Exploration: Detroit-area students learn biology, college life at Tech

Photos by Jon Jaehnig/For the Gazette One of the visiting Detroit area students examines an algal specimen brought aboard the Agassiz from the waters of Portage Lake. During an earlier session the students learned the difference between zoo plankton and phytoplankton, and the importance of these aquatic creatures to the larger ecosystem.

Last week, 18 students from Wayne County high schools visited Michigan Technological University for three days to learn about natural resources, ecology — and life at college.

The students between the ages of 18-20 applied for the opportunity offered through a collaboration between the Detroit Zoo and the University. The applicants “needed to show an express interest in learning about Natural Resources Careers. We also require that they submit letters of support,” said Mike Reed, Detroit Zoo Curator of Education.

The goal of the event was “to get (the students) interested in looking toward the future, and experiencing college life,” Reed said.

Joan Chadde, director of the Center for Science and Environmental Outreach at Tech, worked on a way to bring the students to Tech after meeting Reed while conducting teaching workshops in Detroit.

“The natural resources career path is the least diverse career path. That is why we’re interested in recruiting these students,” said Chadde, “both to bring diversity to Tech, and to the natural resources field.”

Photos by Jon Jaehnig/For the Gazette Participants get their hands dirty finding blood worms in lake sediment brought about the Agassiz. The blood worms are larvae that will eventually float to the surface of the lake and mature into mayflies.

The students’ week included tours of campus, meals in the dining halls and time for recreation at the Student Development Center, as well as field trips to area wetlands, wildlife sanctuaries and state parks.

Students also learned from Tech professors and students working with the “Ride the Waves with GM” summer program, which also sponsored a two-hour trip on Tech’s research vessel, the Agassiz.

“This is a working boat that people come out and do research on, so it’s hard to get time on it sometimes,” said Abi Lynn, chief scientist with the Ride the Waves program at Tech.

On the boat, students measured water clarity, collected algae and found blood worms in sediment brought up from the bottom of the lake.

Many of the students had never been in the Upper Peninsula before, and most of them had never been on a boat before, but all of them participated in taking measurements and studying the lake water and sediment that was sampled during the event.

Photos by Jon Jaehnig/For the Gazette Above: Students visiting from the Detroit area gather around chief scientist Abbi Lynn to learn how to use hardware on Tech’s research vessel, the Agassiz, to collect samples of different kinds of algae. Comparing the comparative amounts of different kinds of algae yields important information about the chemical content of Portage Lake.

The students got to learn more about what these studies measured by participating in activities in Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center. During these activities the students used Crisco and olives to simulate how fish stay buoyant in water, learned about the effects of water clarity on an ecosystem, and dissected fish stomachs donated by Peterson’s Fish Market.

The workshops were all taught by Tech students working with the Ride the Waves program.

Community members wanting to learn more about lake ecology can visit to see upcoming area events, including registering for youth outings on the Agassiz.