Saturday, February 21, 2015

No, I'm not on Breaking Bad

            When you graduate with an NRES degree from Purdue and you enter the working world, there is a high chance that your job will be working with dangerous chemicals and their cleanup. To be able to properly and safely handle these chemicals, you need to be trained and certified in Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER) through OSHA. This is a 40-hour course that your workplace normally pays for and the training process would take up your entire first week. However, through the NRES program at Purdue, you can receive this training and certification at no cost in your last semester. This is very attractive two potential employers because it saves them money and reduces the amount of training you need as an employee.
            The course that offers this certification, NRES 280, meets twice a week for an hour and fifteen minutes during the first ten weeks of the semester. However, there are two lab days where you take what you learn and find out what it’s actually like to be under certain conditions. Today was our first lab day, where we learned what it’s like to be in full HAZMAT suits and respirators (breathing devices). While we didn’t actually deal with any dangerous chemicals, we still learned a lot about what it’s like to be fully suited up. It’s definitely different! In the suits and respirators (and heavy boots) we had to do several different tasks while breathing and maintain composure. These include walking on a treadmill or elliptical for five minutes, looking up information on hazardous materials in the dark, and performing pH tests. All of these tasks were done with a normal respirator that simply filtered the air. However, for our last task we had to wear an oxygen tank that pumped air into our mouths. This was a lot different! We also had to wear two layers of gloves that reduced our dexterity to do one final task: put together a Lego car. When you have a heavy tank on your back and grasping tiny pieces is challenging, putting together Legos is incredibly difficult. However, I had a lot of fun doing it.
            This course demonstrates on of my favorite things about the NRES program at Purdue. Not only do you do a lot of learning inside the classroom, you also get hands on experience doing things very relevant to your future careers. The skills and information that I have learned in my years here will definitely continue to be useful in my future career path.
            I have no pictures right now, but if I get any I will definitely post some!

-          Steve Lira

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Purdue University Dance Marathon

While at Purdue University one thing that I have grown extremely passionate about is the Purdue University Dance Marathon (throughout this blog I will refer to it as PUDM for short). PUDM is the largest student organization at Purdue and the mission of this organization is to raise as much money possible for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Throughout the year they participate in various fundraising events such as date auctions, canning dates outside of WalMart, online donations, and many other things. All of these events lead up to the main event, a dance marathon where everyone who has participated in fundraising stands for 18 hours for those children at Riley who can't. I know it sounds crazy, not only do you have to stay awake for that long but you also have to stand the entire time you're there; let me be the first to tell you that I had no idea what I was getting into my freshman year when I did it. My freshman year I participated as a dancer, my sophomore and junior year I participated as a member of the Greek Relations Committee, and this year (my senior year) I participated as a member of the Riley Development Committee. As a freshman I pretty much just raised money for Riley online and went to the marathon. The event was still very young at Purdue and we managed to raise around $300,000 as an organization. While still pretty good, I knew this organization was going to grow and do much better before my time at Purdue was done. As I said above my sophomore and junior year I was on the Greek Relations committee. The job of this committee was to get the Greek system involved as much as possible. After participating for 3 years, my senior year I  got the opportunity to be a part of the Riley Development committee. Throughout the marathon we actually bring in Riley families to hang out at the marathon, meet some of the dancers, and share their stories from Riley Hospital as a reminder to everyone standing for 18 hours why we're doing it. The job of the Riley D committee is to "buddy up" with a Riley family. Everyone on the committee gets paired with a family and throughout the year at various events you get to know the family (particularly the kid who has been in Riley), exchange emails and phone numbers, and become friends with this family so they are comfortable with you at the marathon. For me this was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Getting to hang out with a 13 year old kid who's had more surgeries and hospital stays than everyone in my family combined makes you realize how lucky you are. This year we were able to raise over $1 million for Riley Hospital, this is the second year in a row we've been able to do that. While I still believe there is a lot of room to grow this organization has managed to grow by $700,000 in just two years. In closing, if you're looking to get involved right away at Purdue when you get here, while there are all kinds of opportunities in the school of Agriculture as well as the Agronomy Department (which i highly encourage you to take advantage of as well), PUDM is a great way to raise money for a great cause as well as get to know students from all over the University.  Below are some pictures from my marathon last year.

My Riley D Commitee

We couldn't sit for 18 hours, but that doesn't mean we didn't try to rest our legs

Relief after standing for 18 hours 

Until next time!

John Hettinga

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Haiti Study Abroad: 10 Days That Changed My Life

While at Purdue I have been offered so many amazing opportunities. Studying abroad in Haiti on Purdue’s Animal and Food Security Service Learning Trip was one of the best opportunities here that I have pursued. It was ten days that changed my life forever.

Just a few days after Christmas, I left home to travel across the ocean to Cap Haitian, Haiti for a trip I had been preparing for all semester. I went with a group of twenty students and two professors. Our main project was partnering with two universities in Haiti and putting on a two day symposium teaching student about sustainable agriculture. Our group broke into five different teams- Poultry, Chemistry, Crops, Bio-digester, Food and Water, and Goats. I was on the crops team. Each team prepared all semester for what they were going to lecture on and do demonstrations over. The symposium went so well! My group focused on planting practices, irrigation, soil, and seed storage. It was amazing how interested everyone was in the information that we taught them. Unlike most students in the U.S., everyone in Haiti was so eager to learn! 

Though the symposium was our main project, but we also did a variety of different things on our trip. One of my favorite things was visiting an orphanage in Haiti. We walked to the orphanage, opened the gates, and got tackled by a heard of little kids wanting us to play and love on ‘em. It was the sweetest thing I have ever experienced, and leaving those sweet kids was also the hardest thing I have ever had to do. At the orphanage I donated a huge suitcase full of hygiene items, my friend donated fifty shirts, and we all put money together to buy them about three months’ worth of food. 

One day we were solely tourists. We traveled south of Cap-Haitian to visit the Citadelle. The Citadelle is a large mountaintop fortress.  Before climbing to the top of this very large mountain we examined the horses at bottom. These horses were in terrible shape. They were dehydrated, malnourished, and had huge sores on them that will never heal because they had no medicine to treat them.  We talked to the owners and asked questions about their management programs and learned more about how we can help them in the future. We are thinking about starting a horse team in the future. Finally we started climbing. It was very difficult, and I thought I was going to die. I did talk my professor into letting me ride a motorcycle up part way. Though the hike made my body ache and ache the view at the top was incredibly beautiful.

On the last day in Haiti we visited Heifer International, and they took us to one of the poorest villages in Haiti’s countryside. I have never seen such poverty. They showed us their goat programs that they are starting in the village, and we toured a cattle pasture and saw Heifer International teaching veterinary practices and how they work their cattle. It was much different from how we do things in the US, but it was exciting to see them making efforts in taking care of their livestock. This was not a common practice in Haiti.

While in Haiti I ate food that I thought I would never try. I played with sweet little kids on the street every day and not one of them could speak English. I climbed to the top of a huge mountain. I built relationships that will last a lifetime, learned and taught about agriculture, and took a huge leap out of my comfort zone. I saw devastation that I thought could never exist. This trip impacted my life in many ways. Haiti is so beautiful and so devastating at the same time. The biggest thing that I learned while I was there is that life is not about making money; it is about using your talent to serve the world. I went to Haiti to serve others. I am not sure that I changed any lives while I was there, but I know for a fact that they changed mine.

Purdue has many study abroad trips. If you decide to come to Purdue I highly encourage you to take a step out of your comfort zone and become a little more cultured. 

~Michaela Turner 

Monday, February 2, 2015

The beginning of the end as a Boilermaker.. or not?

Hello again!

I am in a bittersweet mood as I sit down to write my second to last blog as an ambassador (I will write another one toward the end of the semester when I have finalized my plans post-graduation). I would say that my last semester is one of a typical NRES student; having the majority my credits covered, I am tying up loose ends with my classes this spring. That is not to say they are less interesting than previous courses, though. I am taking a world crop distribution class as well as a hazardous waste handling class. The hazardous waste handling class is one that I have been looking forward since I transferred into NRES. The course is no longer required for all NRES students but because my concentration is land resources, it is something I definitely should experience. The highlights of this class (which is very much focused on real world application) is the labs in which we get to suit up and work through hazardous waste handling scenarios. Woohoo! I would say it will be one of the most interesting lab experiences I will have at Purdue.

Aside from my classes this semester, I am continuing my undergraduate research project, working with Dr. Keith Johnson, and for a little extra cash, I am a barista at Starbucks. We will be conducting the greenhouse segment of the project this semester, and we hope to observe some interesting results and produce a case study from it.

My work with Dr. Johnson has slowed since I last posted. At this point in the project, the grasses have been harvested, data have been recorded, and the remainder of my duties include grinding the harvested samples. Let me be the first to tell you this is not the quickest of tasks, but it will all be worth it when we send the samples off for testing, concluding my journey working with the bioenergy grass project.

Now, you may be curious of the title I chose. My plans post-graduation are currently to attend graduate school, and as you might have guessed by the title, I have applied to Purdue. So, as I sit and write my last blog post, I am uncertain if I will continue as a Boilermaker or switch to something else! The excitement of my undergraduate career winding down is balanced by the stresses of graduate school application deadlines. Alas, upon my next blog post, I will be able to tell you what school I will be calling home for the next two years of my life! One thing is for certain, though. I can reflect on my journey as an NRES student and smile, knowing it has allowed me to realize my passions and given me the courage to set high goals for myself, and be confident that I will achieve them! I am getting a little emotional writing this.. I guess all good things must come to an end.

I will share a few photos as to what I have been up to lately (besides, who doesn't like pictures!)

Dr. Johnson has shown me an appreciation for forages, and just how special they are. Here are some pictures, and I hope you see the beauty in the grasses like I do!

                                 Morning Frost on switchgrass in Peru, IN in mid December

Another adventure since the last time I checked in was this January, when I went to Aspen, CO with the Ski and Snowboard Club. We stayed at Snowmass, the largest of the four mountains. We hiked the ridge of the Highlands Bowl, and let me tell you, there is no better feeling of accomplishment!
 This is me at the sign for the first entry of the Highland Bowl. From this point, we had an hour hike up the ridge to reach the top, which is shown below. 
 This is the top of the Highlands Bowl; the final stop before the last gate to snowboard down. 
 On the third day we travelled to Aspen Mountain, and found this wall of skis. I decided to add my snowboard to the "wall of fame". 
And finally, being the environmental scientist I am, I went to the Nature Center on Snowmass Mountain. The girl working recommended I go check out ACES (Aspen center for Environmental Sciences), which is what is shown in the picture above. It was a 30 acre nature preserve downtown Aspen. There, we got to see an owl eat a mouse, a Golden Eagle, and plenty of ducks. It was a gorgeous evening! 

Unitl next time!