College, university partner on water quality initiative

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — Representatives from Pearl River Community College (PRCC) and Mississippi State University (MSU) met recently with state and federal environmental and conservation officials at the MSU campus in Biloxi to discuss a partnership that will expand voluntary efforts to achieve water quality improvements along the Gulf Coast and train PRCC Honors Institute students to monitor water quality in the region.

The partnership was developed in coordination with a memorandum of understanding signed by PRCC and the Gulf of Mexico Program, a non-regulatory office within the Environmental Protection Agency. Under the agreement, PRCC and EPA will seek to cooperate across a variety of non-regulatory interests. EPA has already begun an internship program with PRCC and is now seeking to assist the Poplarville-based community college in expansion of environmental education.

PRCC’s Honors Institute will be the first community college to participate in Mississippi’s REACH (Research and Education to Advance Conservation and Habitat) program. REACH showcases farmer conservation practices that work well for both agriculture and the environment and includes as some of its partners MSU, Delta F.A.R.M., NRCS, MDEQ and US EPA. Dr. Robbie Kröger at MSU heads the REACH program and will work with PRCC’s Dr. Stephen Black to work directly with agricultural producers to help them better tell their conservation success stories. A major part of this success will be shown by students helping farmers with on-farm water quality monitoring that highlights conservation practices that are protecting the environment.

“This opportunity allows for community college students to become involved with a real-world initiative working side by side with faculty and researchers at MSU and PRCC, and farmers,”  Kröger said. “The partnership will be a win_win situation for all involved.”  It is expected that this initial REACH partnership with the PRCC Honors Institute will lead to additional projects with more top community colleges in Mississippi interested in working with conservation minded farmers.

EPA, USDA and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality were also on hand to discuss the partnership and potential benefits of this partnership.  The partnership is expected to be in full swing by fall of 2013, with courses for students to learn about conservation practices included as part of a new Pearl River Community College environmental science curriculum.

“It will be a selected group that would be interested,” said Dr. Stephen Black, Honors Institute director. “They probably would be in line for the internships at Stennis. In the spring of 2014, we’re going to be teaching environmental studies with a lab that will be in conjunction with that.”

Kevin Grzenia of Chicago, an Honors Institute student at the Forrest County Center, is currently interning with the Gulf of Mexico Program.

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