Students and faculty gathered around the tables to sign up to participate in the lake cleanup event April 22, then grabbed their gloves, safety goggles, trash bags and trash grabber sticks. Students also had to sign a liability waiver.
“Well you have to have liability there,” Dr. Tara Urbanksi said. “And to warn everybody about the dangers of, well, if you don’t know how to swim, you could fall into the lake and we want to make sure that everybody is safe and cautious on this.” She added that fortunately, nothing like that has ever happened.
“If they fell into the lake, I would jump in after them and I would be the mother you wouldn’t want at the hospital,” she joked. “I haven’t lost a student yet, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
The annual activity to pick up garbage around the lake helps sustain the natural environment and the well being of the wildlife. This event also helped to promote Earth Day.\Sonia Ford, the sustainability project coordinator for Richland, designed the lake cleanup project. She said Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honors society students and their adviser, Dr. Jon Ewing, needed a project in November 2014.
With Ford’s help they created the Student Green Team. Ninety percent of the members are Richland Collegiate High School (RCHS) students.
“They [PTK] asked for our assistance and that was the launch of the first lake cleanup and also it was the launching of the Student Green Team,” Ford said. “We’re going almost five years now.”
First-time Green Team member, Heidy Baron, was wearing a neon green member t-shirt.
“My official, I guess, career or green choice would be environmental science; anywhere in that STEM department,” she said. “So I figured that the best outreach is to join the student Green Team.”
Baron said she got involved to learn about future employment opportunities.
Faculty members Urbanski, Michael Li and Dr. Mrudula Ganga also participated in the lake cleanup. Li teaches Environmental Science and Geology at Richland and participates in the lake cleanup every year.
“We have been having these lake cleanups for at least five years, as far as I know, and every time there are more and more students, which is good,” Li said.
“Initially, we clean up the lake and we literally pick up trash from the lake. But for the past two years, the cleanup process has been outsourced to some companies and so we shift our focus to pick up trash around the lake, not from the lake.”
Urbanski, who also teaches Geology at Richland said, “It varies from year to year. We’ve had one semester, I think, close to 75 students that participated. Usually we get anywhere from about 20 to 30 a semester but we’ve had up to 80.”
Students who signed up were rewarded 20 points of extra credit under the instructors.
The event lasted about an hour as students and faculty circled the lake stretching from Walnut Street to the end of Thunderduck Hall filling garbage bags with broken pieces of plastic, discarded paper, warped plastic bottles and sandwich wrappers.
“So today is the day where we were going around and we’re cleaning up the local watershed here of Thunderduck lake. We do this a few times every academic year just to improve the overall quality of health for the aquatic life here and also to maintain the pristine conditions that students love to enjoy while out on the campus,” Urbanski said.
The adventure, however, was not without incident. Natalie Canizales, an RCHS student, lost one of her sandals in the lake while picking up garbage near El Paso Hall.
“What had happened is that I was volunteering at the lake cleanup and for our classes, so we could help out and when I was cleaning, unfortunately, my sandal — my slide slipped off my foot and it fell into the lake and I think it was sucked into the sewer system,” Canizales said.
Canizales said she spoke to the coordinator about her lost shoe but not much could be done about locating it.
“Regardless of the unfortunate event, I don’t think that that should stop me for doing more good just because of that, so I want to encourage other people to go ahead and do something for Earth Day and make sure that you don’t only help out on Earth Day, but help out every day!” Canizales said.