Weigold Readies for AWRA

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Environmental Avenger!

The 29th annual Southwest Florida American Water Resources Association (AWRA) Conference is Friday, January 24, at the Cohen Center of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). One participant will be Nicole Weigold, who has several Fort Myers Beach connections. At the AWRA Conference, Nicole’s focus will be on her role as an Education Outreach Assistantship Intern for the “What’s In The Water” program coordinated by the Mound House, to monitor water quality and non-point source nutrient pollution indicators on Fort Myers Beach. “This can be a huge opportunity for me,” Nicole stated with a cheery smile. “It can help to shape me into a better professional, with a new-found appreciation for public speaking!”

Nicole, a graduate of Cypress Lake High School, is almost but not quite a Southwest Florida native! “I was born in Indiana but my family moved here when I was 2-years-old, so I ‘ve lived in this area almost my entire life. While my parents are here, along with a grandfather, most of our family is still around Fort Wayne, where I visit at least twice a year.” She is a former Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival Princess, “as I was the runner-up to the 2014 Shrimp Festival Queen, when I represented Xperia Hair Salon & Spa, where my Mom is a professional hairstylist.” Another interesting aspect of Nicole’s career is that she is an Ice Cream Maker for Love Boat Ice Cream! “I have been with Love Boat now for six years, the last three as an Ice Cream Maker. You don’t apply to be an Ice Cream Maker – they choose you and most of the recipes are up in my head!”

Academically, Nicole is what FGCU classifies as a “Super Senior.” “That is someone who takes a bit of a nontraditional route through college, where you take your time to absorb your education rather than necessarily concerning yourself about time and hurrying through, just to finish in four years. In my case, I will graduate this upcoming May with my degree in Marine Science.”

She traces her interest in the environment back to when she was three years old! “I grew up around several Southwest Florida beaches, and when we would walk them as a family, I was always poking at any dead fish I would find and tell my parents that when I grew up, I would study fish, so this is a lifelong interest of mine, and why today I take Marine Chemistry and Marine Ecology and Environmental Chemistry and similar subjects at FGCU, with my focus on all things water! Although I started out at Florida SouthWestern State College, I transferred to FGCU two years ago, and I most definitely know that this is exactly where I need to be at this point of my life and career.”

“What’s In The Water”

SWFL--American-Water-Resources-Association
FGCU students assisting during ‘What’s in the Water’ testing included (L to R): Nicole Weigold, Sierra Homic and Matthew Ruppert. Photo courtesy of Blue Turtle Galleries.

Nicole explained that “I am on a Blair Foundation Scholarship that is exclusively for FGCU students.” In addition to that, she is on an Education Outreach Assistantship paid internship, and that is what led her to the “What’s In The Water” program, coordinated by Dr. Michael Parsons, FGCU Water School professor and Director of the Vester Marine & Environmental Research Field Station, with Mound House Educational Coordinator Penny Jarrett. “The Mound House opportunity came my way as part of the Education Outreach Assistantship program,” she recalled. “Penny told me she had an opportunity for me, and it ended up being the exciting ‘What’s In The Water’ project.”

This makes her a huge fan of Jarrett! “Penny is just the most wonderful lady,” Nicole raved, “and she is exactly who I aspire to be; a person with a deep commitment who takes action rather than sitting around waiting for others to lead the way! I assist her in organizing ‘What’s In The Water’ as well as collecting and analyzing the water quality samples when the volunteers return them to the Mound House on the collection days. I enjoy working with these citizen-scientists and I congratulate the people of Fort Myers Beach who help us, because I get the real sense that you cannot live on the island without really caring about water and the environment.”

While it is too early in the “What’s In The Water” project to draw any firm conclusions, “there is no doubt that the non-point source pollutants have a direct impact on Fort Myers Beach, contributing to the 2018 Red Tide event we all experienced,” Nicole stated. “We are still in the process of connecting all the dots, with the ultimate goal of finding permanent solutions in a positive manner, as Mike and Penny stress that pointing fingers at others is not the answer. I hope I can help in this regard, as water quality is a delicate issue. Science aside, we humans are the ultimate problem and we humans can find the solutions, through greater knowledge and awareness.”

Vester Research Field Station

Another aspect of her scholarship and internship is Nicole’s work at the Vester Marine & Environmental Research Field Station. “The staff is a mixture of FGCU professors, graduate students, and less than 10 undergraduate students,” she explained, “and I am one of those, so I feel extremely fortunate. They give us great freedom to pursue environmental projects, and the professors are great to us. One aspect that excites me is our work with seagrasses, as they are crucial to our ecosystems and manatees and to us as human beings. Coral reefs are probably my favorite things and I am on a mission to preserve them, as I love coral reefs! What makes Vester perfect for me is it is almost an equal mix of laboratory work and environmental monitoring, as I enjoy both of those. At Vester, they make me feel like I really make a positive difference!”

As for working with Dr. Parsons, “he is humble and incredibly encouraging, and you would never guess from the way he carries himself that he is rapidly becoming a superstar in our field. Despite an unbelievably hectic schedule, he always makes his students feel important and never inadequate. He creates a positive mood to learn and work in and I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to be associated with him.”

For as much as Nicole appreciates her academic and professional mentors, she praises her parents, Krista and Chad. “For my entire life, they constantly tell me I can be anything I want to be, and they never once tried to dissuade me from pursuing water quality and science as a career. I can never thank them enough!”

When Nicole first transferred to FGCU, she had no idea she would be joining a team that is rapidly becoming one of the leading water quality research institutions in the entire nation! “I had a vague sense that FGCU was building up to something but really didn’t appreciate how close we were to becoming an academic leader in the water movement and now suddenly here we are! My main excitement over the Water School is not what it can do for me personally, but what it can contribute to future generations, as it is exciting to envision the doors it will open for younger people, to give them the chance to help us all in finding the solutions and answers. Florida is in its own way Ground Zero for water quality, and the answers we discover here we can use to educate the entire world.”

Positive Reinforcement

If Nicole could change just one aspect of the clean water movement, it would not be a scientific advancement or an ordinance or ban. “I would make every single person take responsibility for their own actions. I wish more people realized that every action they take, good or bad, plays a role in water. When I go out with friends, I constantly advocate that, and sometimes they call me a ‘Science Nerd,’ but people of my generation mostly get it, and I wish those of my parents and grandparents’ ages did as well, so my wish is that more people get the message through positive reinforcement, for the good of everyone. People have so much power within themselves, and that can be a good or negative thing, because if we channel that for good, we can achieve amazing results. As I hear myself, I sound like one of those superhero Avengers – an environmental Avenger!”

After her May graduation, Nicole would like to “continue to research, specifically at Vester, so I hope FGCU allows me to pursue a graduate program to attain a Master’s degree in Environmental Science. I constantly find myself looking for the next opportunity to improve myself, while helping others through my projects and research, and I never want to turn those chances down. While I love research and monitoring, I want to speak out and up for the environment. That is one of the things I love about science as a profession – the only thing we deal with is the truth!”

 

  1. FGCU students assisting during ‘What’s in the Water’ testing included (L to R): Nicole Weigold, Sierra Homic and Matthew Ruppert. Photo courtesy of Blue Turtle Galleries.