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Dickinsonians Lead the (Water) Way

Julie Vastine stands in stream.

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

ALLARM and Its Students Make a Difference in Pennsylvania and Across the Country

by Marie Laverdiere '21

Dickinsonians are influencers, and who better to illustrate that than Julie Vastine ’03, director of Dickinson’s Alliance for Aquatic Resource Management (ALLARM).

ALLARM teaches communities to assess water quality health and implement local change through science and data. Whether in central Pennsylvania, the Chesapeake Bay region or on the national level, ALLARM encourages volunteers to engage in “citizen science,” which analyzes watershed health by combining scientific techniques with local knowledge.

In recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a multitude of other federal agencies have examined the role that citizen science can play in augmenting data collection efforts and promote environmental stewardship. And this fall, in the wake of running a workshop at the 2019 Citizen Science Association conference, Vastine was invited to conduct two workshops for the EPA and one for the Federal Community of Practice on topics including study design and effective volunteer engagement.

“To be thought of to offer one of those trainings on best practices is incredible,” says Vastine, whose work with ALLARM has led to membership on the Citizen Science Association board and to a post as volunteer monitoring representative to the National Water Quality Monitoring Council. "It speaks to ALLARM’s reputation in the field, and it also speaks to the fact that we’re implementing what we should be implementing."

During a busy semester of meetings and preparation for her next presentation, Vastine turned to Angelo Tarzona ’21 (earth sciences), whose research with ALLARM on volunteer engagement best practices helped prime him for the Conservation District Watershed Specialist Conference in State College.

“Angelo had done amazing work over the summer, so when we had the opportunity to conduct a workshop on monitoring best practices, I asked him if he wanted to tag team with me,” says Vastine, noting that Tarzona had already witnessed a number of study design video conferences and phone calls with ALLARM’s partners. “To my surprise, despite his ongoing research, Angelo chose to present on the tool study design and not volunteer engagement. He said, ‘I want to do study design training because I haven't done it yet, and this is a really important tool that we use, and I want to learn how to teach people about it.’”

And with that, Tarzona and Vastine prepped for the next month, and the junior gave his presentation to 100 attendees.

“I think that's something that is distinctively Dickinson, to facilitate unique experiences for our students,” says Vastine, whose work through ALLARM—and Tarzona’s as well—not only benefits local waterways but have a ripple effect. “It's part of our culture to create those opportunities, but it's also our students who are looking to raise the bar. We work with them and build their skill sets … but their organizational investment and drive to grow and learn helps us succeed as well.”


Published November 19, 2019