Water Quality and Public Heath: An Introduction to Field Research in Environmental Science

Vanderbilt Summer Academy


Nashville, TN






Water is critical for human life. You interact and ingest water every single day and don’t think twice. How do you know, however, that the water you are drinking is clean when pollution is leading to a variety of problems associated with global human health? Ensuring you and future generations have access to safe water is the job of environmental scientists working in the specialized field of water quality. In this course, you will have the opportunity to work as an environmental field scientist, analyzing the health of the water in Middle Tennessee! In your research, you will consider questions, such as ‘How do scientists measure/quantify the level of contamination in a water source?’ and ‘How do we treat contaminated water?’, as well as ‘What are the impacts on human health?’ You will collect data from field surveys and experiments, use descriptive and inferential statistics to analyze your results, and present your findings to your peers like a research scientist. In your final project, you will write and present to your class a mock white paper to the TN Department of Environment and Conservation detailing your research findings and offering recommendations for potential new laws and regulations. Expect to leave this course knowing how to code in R (the standard in statistical programming languages) and how to describe and analyze data sets from the environmental sciences. Expect also to leave with a newfound appreciation for the work of field research and for the processes that govern and shape the natural waters around us.

Greg Smith is the instructor of Interdisciplinary Science and Research at John Overton High School in Nashville, TN. He earned his Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Sciences from Vanderbilt University in 2019, where he relied on concepts and techniques from geology, ecology, and chemistry to understand the dietary habits of extinct megafauna (large mammals like elephants, camels, and bison). Now, he leverages his diverse scientific background and passion for education to teach high school students how to be scientists! His students carry out independent research projects, give presentations at national science competitions, and get their hands dirty working with multiple business partners outdoors in the beautiful area surrounding Middle Tennessee. In his free time, Greg enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and yoga with his wife, Lauren, and his two children, Harvey and Gwendolyn. Greg loves teaching and hopes to inspire future generations of scientists to follow their dreams!

This program is offered in two sessions

  • Rising 11th and 12th Grade One Week Program
  • Rising 11th and 12th Grade Two Week Program
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It was an amazing experience for my son who attended session I this summer, even though he did not get into his first/second choices of classes. Friendships were made, a great time was had. My son said he's had the best proctor who went out of his way to inspire and mentor the youngsters. A big shout out to Vandy A-house proctor Evan Nguyen for all the wise advice he dispensed. Also enjoyed the info session given by the director of admissions.

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