UW Students Partner with Riverton Seventh Graders to Study Landfill Solutions

Rachel Watson and her UW microbiology course students welcome Riverton Middle School seventh graders on the UW campus Monday, Oct. 7. (UW Photo)

Nearly sixty Riverton Middle School (RMS) students visited the University of Wyoming’s campus Monday, Oct. 7, to learn about phytoremediation, which is the ability of plants to clean up soil, air and water contaminated with hazardous pollutants.

Arranged by the UW Science Initiative’s Learning Actively Mentoring Program (LAMP), the visit was part of a yearlong collaboration between Rachel Watson’s microbiology capstone course at UW and the seventh grade class at RMS. The two groups of students are researching a possible remediation solution for the city of Riverton’s former landfill, while working with city officials and Inberg-Miller Engineers (IME).

“This collaboration is truly unique, because it will allow the seventh grade students to work within their community on a meaningful project — and to do so in an interdisciplinary way with community leaders and UW student researchers,” says Watson, director of LAMP and a senior lecturer in UW’s Department of Chemistry.

During Monday’s visit, the RMS students toured the Rocky Mountain Herbarium and the Williams Conservatory, located in UW’s Aven Nelson Building, before participating in hands-on research in microbiology labs on campus.

Riverton’s former landfill operated from 1971-1983, a time with fewer regulations on landfills such as a required liner to prevent leaks. It is underneath 60 acres that now house other structures and contains an estimated 650,000 cubic yards of buried waste. In the last decade, the state of Wyoming has created a landfill remediation program to assist with sites that have a high risk to human health and the environment.

City officials and IME identified phytoremediation as a possible remediation option, but a feasibility study regarding the effectiveness was necessary. That’s when RMS teachers Nanna Frazier, Tasya Ravellette, Alma Law and Christina Bekken thought they could get involved, after the Riverton mayor discussed the issue during a classroom visit.

Frazier, Ravellette and Law attended LAMP’s Roadmap to STEAM Conference and saw this as an opportunity to use problem-based learning they learned at the event. The RMS educators are now collaborating with city officials, IME and Watson’s students to do authentic research related to the site with Riverton students.

Frazier is a UW alumna, earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology (’00); a master’s degree in sociology (’02); and a master’s degree in middle school mathematics (’17). Likewise, Bekken graduated from UW with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education (’04) and a master’s degree in natural science (’10).

“This curriculum will allow students to explore solutions involving phytoremediation, mycoremediation and bioremediation,” Watson says. “They will learn about the chemistry of the landfill leachate; the plant physiology of species that can accumulate these toxins; and metabolism of fungi and bacteria that also can degrade harmful chemicals.”

Watson’s group plans more visits to Riverton throughout the year to involve the RMS students in the research and mentor the group as it performs on its own. The collaboration will conclude with presentations in the summer of 2020 at the Wyoming Department of Education’s Roadmap to STEAM Conference, which will be hosted in Riverton.

Watson’s UW course is a problem- and community-based course in which students write grant proposals and do lab- and site-based science to generate viable solutions to those issues. The six UW students enrolled in the course are:

Big Piney — Dylan Miller, senior, microbiology.

Hulett — Cortney Johnson, senior, microbiology.

Monument, Colo. — Ashley Cherry, senior, microbiology.

Pine Bluffs — Scott Gross, senior, agricultural business.

Rock Springs — Jaynie Welsh, senior, physiology and microbiology.

Star Valley — Colten Clark, senior, microbiology.

RMS students participating in the project are: Cameran Arima, Eli Bell, Ian Bell, Mallorie Bichel, Aspyn Brown, Kaylei Buskohl, Logan Cory, Ryan Cox, Teagan Day, Samantha DeClercq, Addison England, Ellanie Forbis, Konnor Frost, Adara Goff, Kyler Graham, Brandon Granville, Ashtin Griffin, Haiden Harding, Cody Heard, Tyler Hernandez, Emma Hill, Declan Hutchison, Joaquin Janis, Cambree Jevne, Rory Johnson, Matthew Keene, Ayden Kelley, TaiLynne Keyes, Trison Ladd, Jackson Larsen, Katelynn Lemley, Parker Longtine, Caydo Martinez, Demitri McNeil, Ayana Mejorado, Samantha Mendes-Ablard, Sharla Monreal, Taylor Murray, Landen Nez, Mackenzie Nez, Megan Nguyen, Madison O’Meara, Alexis Peden, Adriyanna Potter, Ashlynn Prettyman, Sahiri Rico, Gabrielle Robinson, Rylee Romer, Blake Schatza, Kaidyn Simpson, Davian Spoonhunter, Faith Stevens, Paden Stevens, Alicia Vargas, Karsone Walthers, Sidney Ward and Mary Witzel.