- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

ERIE, Pa. (AP) - Presque Isle State Park, recently named Best Freshwater Beach in the national USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice contest, has long been a draw for tourists looking for the perfect place to swim and sunbathe.

But the park, Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie are also a draw for another group: science-minded students and their teachers.

Gannon University is capitalizing on its proximity to the park and the surrounding waters through its growing freshwater and marine biology program.

“We’re a few blocks away from Presque Isle Bay and the lake and not only that, there’s about 30 tributary streams along the Pennsylvania border here that make for really good natural laboratories, not only for research but for teaching purposes,” said Greg Andraso, professor of biology and director of the program.

The first class of students in 2015 brought in seven students. Over the course of five years, Andraso would like that number to increase to 12, bringing total enrollment in four classes to near 50.



So far, enrollment is on trajectory to reach that goal, he said, but there are still some students who don’t know that they can make a career out of their interests, Andraso said.

“I grew up fishing on Lake Erie and inland lakes and romping around in streams as a little kid and camping,” Andraso said. “I was always kind of connected to the outdoors in general and that’s what put me on my path.

“I think we have a lot of students in our region that kind of fit that mold, that enjoy being outdoors. … They’re very aware of that environment and the importance of it, but not aware of career paths where they could spend a good chunk of their job in streams and lakes, collecting data to better understand these bodies of water and how they function and what happens when things get a little off kilter.”

Proximity to the lake, bay and tributaries is helpful given the requirement that students complete two semesters of hands-on research.

“We really want students to be engaged in that process of doing science, which is everything from observation to generating a question to collecting data and drawing conclusions,” Andraso said.

Researching is an invaluable experience for students looking for a job after graduation or for those going on to graduate work, Andraso said. With a new campus in Ruskin, Florida, Gannon students will also have expanded internship and study opportunities.

Andraso rattles off numbers that speak to the importance of the program: The Great Lakes make up 20 percent of the Earth’s surface fresh water and 84 percent of North America’s fresh water.

“I think the ultimate goal for our students is to have a very good understanding of how aquatic ecosystems function and how human and natural phenomena affect the functioning, identify problems, and understand ways of remediating those kind of problems,” Andraso said.

“Really, if you were to come full circle, it’s that understanding of aquatic environments and identifying problems and remediating those problems that has gotten our beaches to No. 1 in the Great Lakes region.

“That story wouldn’t have been written in 1960,” he said. “That being said, there are continuing threats and problems that need our attention and that’s why our major exists.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1TK3803

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Information from: Erie Times-News, https://www.goerie.com

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