Newton Students, Teacher & Iowa DNR Clean Up Name of Local Creek

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, organized citizens can change the world,” anthropologist Margaret Mead once said. Students and teachers at Newton High School, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff, proved exactly that this summer by raising awareness of the South Skunk River watershed by successfully changing the name of Sewer Creek to Cardinal Creek.

Science teacher Courtney Wolken has worked at Newton High School (NHS) for 11 years. In the summer of 2016, Wolken met with Iowa DNR Nonpoint Source Coordinator, Steve Hopkins, and Jasper County DNR’s Keri VanZante, to brainstorm projects for her Advanced Placement (AP) Biology students that would benefit the Newton community. Hopkins and VanZante proposed the idea of changing the creek’s name from “Sewer” to “Cardinal,” in honor of the NHS mascot. Wolken was immediately receptive of the idea for her students. Wolken wrote the project into her AP Biology curriculum for the year, planning to have students begin water testing and watershed assessment during the project, in addition to facilitating the name change.

The creek lies just west of the school and connects to the South Skunk River. It is one of many creeks in Iowa with the descriptor “sewer” because of their historical use as sewage dumping areas. The practice of waste dumping has since been changed, but many creeks still bear the stinky names of their previous purposes.

Cardinal Creek photo2

Cardinal Creek,
Photo by Courtney Wolken

As part of the creek project, students began organizing trash clean up days. Wolken says:

It was rewarding to see the students take ownership of the project. The students took a day and cleaned up garbage at three site locations. They were always happy to take observations at the sites, and pictures to use for the habitat assessment.

Wolken’s class applied for official approval from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to change the creek’s name in April 2017, and the USGS responded by asking for evidence of local support for the name change. Hopkins says:

When I learned of this from Ms. Wolken, I offered to contact several local agencies to solicit support letters for the effort.  Four local community agencies: the Jasper County Conservation Board, the Jasper Soil and Water Conservation District, the Newton School Board, and the Newton City Council, all responded with enthusiastic support letters. 

Wolken’s students also began talking with community members about the creek, and petitioning both the Newton Community School Board and the Newton City Council for approval of the project. Wolken states that her classes continually received positive feedback:

During the process, I have spoken with many community members who shared their stories about the creek that runs behind the school. Many spent time [there] enjoying nature. They had no idea why it was called “Sewer Creek.”

With support from the school board, the Newton community, and the DNR, Wolken’s class presented several letters of support to the USGS. On July 19 they received notice that the name change had been officially approved.

Wolken and Hopkins are both thrilled by the success of the students, and what it means for the future of the creek and the South Skunk River watershed. Hopkins says:

Making NHS students and local residents more aware of their local creek also fits with the statewide water quality education campaign that the Iowa DNR Watershed Improvement Program is embarking upon. …[M]any Iowans are not only unaware of the water quality of their local lakes and streams, many are even unaware of the name of their local creek…These efforts greatly enhanced awareness of a local creek whose new name bears enormous pride in the Newton community. 

While waiting for official word from the USGS, both AP Biology and AP Chemistry students started actively monitoring the creek to help assess the water quality long-term. “We would like a few more months of chemical assessment before analysis of the numbers [is shared],” says Wolken. In addition to water quality improvement goals, Wolken sees additional possibilities that could follow from this experience:

I would like this project to continue being a collaboration between the two AP science courses. I have an interest in more restorative projects, such as erosion control, native plantings, and [improvements with] urban water runoff from the school. The students would like to involve community members with some of these projects.

Because signage for creeks is not something the Iowa Department of Transportation normally provides, the DNR stepped forward to fund the DOT to create and install a Cardinal Creek sign. Wolken was present at the time the sign was installed to capture that wonderful moment on camera.

DOT installs signage,
Photos by Courtney Wolken & Sara Hopkins

Water Rocks! is thrilled about this example of positive change in support of local water quality improvement, and we are grateful to Courtney Wolken and Steve Hopkins for sharing their stories with us. We congratulate the students and teachers of NHS for showing that a small group of thoughtful, committed, organized citizens absolutely can—and will—change our world!

Newton High School AP Biology students & teacher, Courtney Wolken,
Photos by Steve Hopkins

Brandy Case Haub

Meet Our 2017 Water Resources Interns!

We are happy to introduce a great crew of interns this year! You can catch our interns out this summer at county fairs, farmers markets, field days and festivals across the great state of Iowa as they travel with our fleet of Conservation Station trailers. Our interns will also play a large role in field work and data collection for research projects with Iowa State University Extension’s Iowa Learning Farms program and Iowa State’s Ag Water Management research group.


Pictured above from left to right:

Elizabeth Schwab, hailing all the way from Levittown, Pennsylvania, is double majoring in Agronomy and Environmental Science at Iowa State. Elizabeth will begin her senior year this fall.

Chase Bethany, representing northeast Iowa, grew up in Chickasaw County in New Hampton. Chase is studying Agricultural Engineering (Power and Machinery Option) with a minor in business at Iowa State and will be a junior this fall.

Kaleb Baber represents the great state of Missouri. Kaleb grew up in Weston, Missouri, and headed north to pursue a degree in Agronomy at Iowa State. Kaleb will be a junior this fall.

Andrew Hillman hails from eastern Iowa and is a native of Bettendorf. Andrew is studying Biological Systems Engineering at Iowa State and will begin his junior year this fall.

Laura Lacquement, originally from Martensdale, Iowa, in Warren County, is studying Environmental Science and heading into her senior year this fall.

We are happy to have our interns on board! Come meet them at a community event near you. Keep your eyes peeled on the blog and on our program social media pages as our interns author guest blogs, talk about their experiences and share what they think is important about water quality, conservation and our natural resources.

Iowa Learning Farms: Follow Iowa Learning Farms on Facebook and Twitter!
Water Rocks!: Follow Water Rocks! on Facebook and Twitter!

Julie Whitson

Meet Our Interns!

We have a fabulous crew of interns in the Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! water resources internship program this summer, so without further ado, we’d like to introduce our college student interns to you!


Pictured above from left to right:

Nathan Waskel, originally from Altoona, IA, is studying Computer Science at ISU. He has been working with Dr. Helmers and the STRIPs team for a year-plus, and will be helping out with Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! outreach this summer in addition.

Megan Koppenhafer, a native of Williamsburg, IA, is double majoring in Environmental Science and Community and Regional Planning at ISU. We are thrilled to have Megan back with our program for a second summer, serving as our student/staff liaison!

Hannah Corey is originally from Lake City, IA, and is double majoring in Agronomy and Environmental Science at ISU.

Sam Phillips hails from Manchester, IA, and he is studying Agricultural Engineering (Land & Water Resources Option) at ISU.

Kate Sanocki represents the great state of Wisconsin! Growing up in Hudson, WI, Kate headed south to ISU to pursue a degree in Biological Systems Engineering.

Amanda Marlin is originally from Dallas, IA, and is currently studying Agricultural Engineering (Land & Water Resources Option) at ISU. Amanda started working in Dr. Helmers’ lab during spring semester of this year.

There will be several chances to meet and interact with this great group of students as the summer goes on. They will be traveling to all corners of the state with our fleet of Conservation Station trailers as we visit county fairs, farmers markets, field days, festivals, camps, and more. Stay tuned to the blog, as well – starting next week, each intern will be sharing a guest blog post about their experiences over the course of the summer!

We also have four high school students that will be participating in the water resources internship program. They’ll be starting in June, so we’ll give them a shoutout in a few weeks when they’re officially on board.

Ann Staudt

Applications open for 2016 Water Resources Internship Program

It may be January, but we are already looking ahead to the summer months as we are actively in search of outstanding undergraduate students for our water resources summer internship program! Want to join Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! for the summer? We are looking for students that are energetic, enthusiastic, hard workers, with interests in agriculture and the environment, especially soil health and water quality!



The water resources internship program is based on campus at Iowa State University, but is not limited to ISU students – our program is open to undergraduate students from any institution across the country. In the past two summers, we’re worked with students from ISU, Hawkeye Community College, Grinnell College, Drake University, and the University of Georgia. This is a paid internship opportunity, with students having the opportunity to work up to 40 hours per week.

In the water resources internship program, each day is a new adventure!  Here’s a snapshot of how a water resources student intern might spend one week of their summer internship with us…


Monday: Morning staff meeting, followed by trip to ISU Northern Research Farm at Kanawha to collect water samples from suction lysimeters in cover crop plots.


Tuesday: Travel to a youth summer camp and help students learn all about soil + how to protect it.


Wednesday: Another day in the field… counting earthworm middens in side-by-side plots with and without cover crops.


Thursday: Outreach Event…Travel with the Conservation Station to a county fair; teach the hands-on, interactive Watershed Game to fairgoers of all ages!


Friday: Morning = soil processing in the lab, then help out with a new Water Rocks! video production in the afternoon!

Past participants in our internship program have gone on to such careers as project engineer, watershed coordinator, environmental educator, field research specialist, and USDA-FSA program technician, while others have pursued graduate school opportunities and even been accepted into the Peace Corps.



Applications for the water resources internship program are open now through Monday, January 25.  Visit our 2016 Water Resources Internship Program page for additional details and application instructions!

Do you know an undergraduate student that would be a great fit? Send them our way – we are looking forward to a great year ahead!

Ann Staudt

I Spy in the Rye…



My oh my, look at that rye! Just sayin.

I spy in the rye… 

… new student interns!   Our 2015 summer internship program officially got underway last Monday.  On day one (a cold, blustery spring day much like today), our crew of student interns travelled with me to the ISU Northern Research Farm on the outskirts of Kanawha to get some hands-on experience with water sampling and cover crops.

These plots are part of cover crop mixtures demonstration project, funded through a USDA-NRCS National Conservation Innovation Grant.  While the project is investigating cover crop mixtures, you’ll just see cereal rye in these photos as the other species in the mixtures are not winter hardy.

Kayla Hasper, Pacifique Simon, and Megan Koppenhafer search for the suction lysimeter to begin the water sample extraction process.  Photo taken May 11, 2015.

Kayla Hasper, Pacifique Simon, and Megan Koppenhafer search for the suction lysimeter to begin the water sample extraction process. Photo taken May 11, 2015.

From left to right, Brian Stout, Mikayla Edwards, and Bailey Griffin bottle up a water sample extracted from one of the buried suction lysimeters in our cover crop plots at the ISU Northern Research Farm. Photo taken May 11, 2015.

From left to right, Brian Stout, Mikayla Edwards, and Bailey Griffin bottle up a water sample extracted from one of the buried suction lysimeters in our cover crop plots at the ISU Northern Research Farm. Photo taken May 11, 2015.

Student interns for summer 2015 include:

  • Mikayla Edwards (Anamosa, IA) – Animal Ecology, ISU
  • Bailey Griffin (Kasson, MN) – Biological Systems Engineering, ISU
  • Kayla Hasper (Montrose, IA) – Animal Ecology/Environmental Studies, ISU
  • Megan Koppenhafer (Williamsburg, IA) – Environmental Science/Community and Regional Planning, ISU
  • Pacifique Simon (Des Moines) – Agriculture Systems Technology/Industrial Technology, ISU
  • Samuel Waite (Waterloo) – Natural Resource Management, Hawkeye Community College
  • Brian Stout (Ames) – ISU Grad, Part-time summer staff with Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks!

While they are all bundled up in these pictures, soon these students will be seen in short sleeves, caps, and sunglasses as they travel across the state to field research sites as well as outreach events including visits to schools, outdoor classrooms, field days, and county fairs.  Keep an eye out for their smiling faces at a Conservation Station event near you!  This is really an outstanding group of students, and I hope you’ll get the opportunity to visit with them and hear their stories over the course of the summer months!

Ann Staudt


Meet our 2014 Summer Interns!

Student interns are a huge part of the Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! team every summer, more than doubling the size of our regular staff!  Our interns are directly involved with public outreach (visiting schools, libraries, traveling with the Conservation Station to field days and county fairs) as well as field and lab research on such topics as agricultural water resources and cover crops (e.g. measuring cover crop impacts on soil infiltration).

In addition, each intern will be completing an independent project tailored to their own unique interests, with projects ranging from an investigation of the relationship between earthworms and cover crops, to soil physical properties, to creating videos and other media for the Water Rocks! program.

Without further ado, let’s meet the 2014 summer intern crew!


Pictured from left to right:
Brandon Friederich: Journalism and Mass Communications/Music double major, Iowa State University
Nick Hunter: Physics/Spanish double major, Grinnell College
Liz Gotzinger: Integrated Studio Arts, Iowa State University
Annie Wallace: Biological Systems Engineering, Iowa State University
Anna Chott: Environmental Science/Environmental Policy double major, Drake University
Tiffany Eberhard: Environmental Health Science/Anthropology double major, University of Georgia
Lance Henrichs: Agricultural Systems Technology, Iowa State University

This enthusiastic crew will be out and about around the state all summer long, so keep an eye out for their friendly faces coming to a location near you.

– Ann Staudt