Walking the Fall Kill Stream, Emma Butzler’s Summer Internship Experience
January 13, 2022 — Urging students to customize their own education, Emma Butzler ’22, an Environmental Science major and Economics minor, took advantage of that pillar in a Marist education and created an internship to analyze how Hudson Valley residents interact with their environment.
“My internship was actually a personal research project that I designed with the help of my amazing advisor, Dr. Zion Klos, in hopes of addressing a socio-environmental issue here in Dutchess County,” said Butzler. With the help of Klos, Butzler spent time researching, extracting data, and creating a Geographic Information System (GIS) map to present as a research proposal to the Hudson River Foundation, which she was awarded.
“The Hudson River Foundation awards grant money to undergraduate and graduate research projects to conduct them over the summer. I was fortunate enough to be awarded the grant, which meant my summer ‘job’ was a research project I designed!” said Butzler.
Butzler’s interest in the relationship between humans and the environment began during her freshman year of high school in Jersey Shore, PA. “When I was a freshman in high school, I took an environmental science college course that focused on the social issues that arose from environmental issues. The tie between the environment and society struck my interest. I loved learning how people interacted with the environment,” said Butzler.
From there, Butzler created this internship opportunity which had her walking the length of the Fall Kill stream in Poughkeepsie. Classified as Class C, meaning it isn’t the healthiest quality, Butzler walked its length collecting nitrogen data measurements every 50 meters, intending to potentially identify locations that had on-site septic systems not working correctly.
Once “hotspots” were detected, further research was needed. “Once I located ‘hotspots’ in nitrogen, I went back to those locations to test for Enterococci, an indicator of human waste. In simpler terms, excess nitrogen and human contamination from untreated or poorly treated wastewater has serious health and ecological implications for local residents and the Hudson River Watershed,” said Butzler.
Accompanied by 13 of her friends throughout the collection process, Butzler started around the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum, walking a mile a day. At the end of each day, the endpoint would become the starting point the following day. “The stream went through tunnels, under bridges, through peoples backyards, turned into swamps, or lakes, waterfalls, and wetlands. You name it, I probably walked through it,” said Butzler.
Every day proved a different challenge for Butzler and whichever friend accompanied her that day. Some days were easier than others, but Butzler spent it outdoors doing a project she designed each day. “Every day was completely different. The stream had no mercy making each day kind of a surprise, but it was so much fun. I got to spend every day outside doing a project I made and get paid for it!” said Butzler.
While her project was just one piece of cleaning up the Fall Kill Stream, she hopes the research she conducted can be used to affect real change in the local community. “The overall goal was to address onsite septic systems as a possible source of nitrogen and contamination to help management agencies, policymakers, and scientists create effective management strategies to mitigate and reduce excess nitrogen as well as locate possible sources of faulty infrastructure,” said Butzler.
Butzler’s commitment to protect the local environment stretches further than her research. Over the summer, Butzler worked with the Mid Hudson Young Environmental Scientists program (MH-YES), where she was a mentor for local high school students. For three weeks, she worked alongside these students to introduce them to environmental research in the Hudson Valley.
Coming from a family of educators, Butzler found a passion for teaching and getting students involved in outdoor research. “I love teaching and getting people involved, especially if it entails outdoor activities. It was exciting sharing my passion and research with the students,” said Butzler.