WKU senior Megan Laffoon of Louisville and University Distinguished Professor Chris Groves returned last week from Guangzhou, China, after presenting research at the International Symposium on Sustainable Development in Water Resources and Ecological Environment.
The conference, attended by invited research hydrologists from China, the United States, Europe and Russia, was designed to enhance communication between groundwater geochemists, numerical modelers and sustainability experts in the planning stages of a major environmental research initiative in China.
Laffoon, a student in the Chinese Flagship Program and the Honors College at WKU, presented results of her WKU Honors thesis, Potential Application of Hugelkultur to Increase Water Holding Capacity of Karst Rocky Desertified Lands, co-authored with Hydrogeology Professor Dr. Groves and Biology Professor Dr. Albert Meier. Laffoon is a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar and received research support for the project from the WKU Sisterhood through its Lifetime Experience Grant. Her travel expenses for this trip were shared by a WKU Faculty-Undergraduate Student Engagement (FUSE) Grant and China’s Jinan University.
Dr. Groves was the conference’s opening keynote speaker, presenting Measurement of Inorganic Carbon Fluxes from Large River Basins in the South Central Kentucky Karst, co-authored with Connor Salley, Laura Osterhoudt, Jason Polk, Kegan McClanahan and Autumn Turner. All co-authors except Dr. Polk, Associate Professor of Geography, are Geoscience graduate students whose research has contributed to the project.
For Dr. Groves the trip led to some new relationships, but the most interesting part for him was admiring how seamlessly Laffoon could operate in this highly professional environment after four years of training in the Chinese Flagship Program.
“I kept hearing colleagues tell me that they were astounded to learn that Megan was an undergraduate and not a PhD student,” he said.
Flagship students choose at least one major in addition to the intensive Chinese classes that they take throughout their college career, including summer overseas intensive programs, and as a result Laffoon has developed a high command both of the technical aspects of her research and the Chinese language.
“In terms of the original goals of the Flagship Program,” Dr. Groves said, “this might well be as purely successful a program outcome as any I have seen in my career at WKU.”
Dr. Ching-Hsuan Wu, Academic Director of the Chinese Flagship Program, noted that “The Language Flagship is a national initiative to develop U.S. citizens’ language skills that are critical to U.S. national security and economic competitiveness. Our program is rigorous and outcome-driven. All the faculty and staff are committed to students’ success in achieving the Superior level of proficiency and becoming global professionals.”
She added that “Megan is one of our excellent Flagship scholars, and her success has proven rewarding to our Chinese Flagship community across the nation.”
Laffoon’s Honors thesis research was co-advised by Dr. Groves and Dr. Meier with the help of local farmer and permaculture expert Tim Kercheville. The project involves development and testing of small-scale agricultural practices that may help to solve difficult environmental challenges in rural China caused by the particular karst landscapes—those with caves, sinkholes and underground rivers— that southcentral Kentucky and extensive parts of southwest China share.
While in China, Laffoon and Dr. Groves met with Chinese scientists to share specific ideas on how these ideas could be implemented in southwest China, and to plan for a field test coordinated by Laffoon in spring 2017 in Guilin.
Laffoon will finish the coursework required by her major in May and then spend the next year in China doing research and polishing Chinese to reach her goal of the Superior Chinese language proficiency by American Councils on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) standards. Laffoon will graduate upon her return from China in May 2017.
“I am so incredibly grateful to have been given this opportunity,” Laffoon said. “I cannot wait to see how this conference helps me further develop my research.”
Contact: Chris Groves, (270) 745-5974