On the Waterfront: A Gannon Student Designs and Conducts a Unique Research Project

Posted: July 7, 2017

 One of the great advantages of attending a university with an urban campus is the proximity to internships and field experiences. If that university is Gannon University, the waterfront is only blocks away, which presents further opportunities.

Holly Dill put both of those factors to work to design an innovative research project that reflected her unique academic path.

Dill, a native of Ford City, Pennsylvania, is a double major in biology and Gannon's new freshwater and marine biology program. When she graduated in May, she was among the first class of students to receive a diploma from that new program. Add a minor in environmental science and you have a student uniquely qualified to conduct research on the Great Lakes.

And that's just what she did, securing a grant from the The S.O.N.S. (Save Our Native Species) of Lake Erie Fishing Club to conduct water quality testing at the organization's facility on Erie's Presque Isle Bay. But first, she had to find out about the grant.

She did that as part of her work-study position in Gannon's advancement division. Mark Gaeta, coordinator of capital support is, like Dill, a hunting and fishing enthusiast. He told Dill about the S.O.N.S. organization and urged her to get in touch with them.

"We have been issuing a $500 scholarship to universities for years to help us monitor the water quality, fish health and operating procedures during our hatching season," said S.O.N.S. vice president Ed Kissell.

With the help of Gregory Andraso, Ph.D., professor of biology and Christopher Dempsey, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, Dill designed a research plan. Twice a week, Dill took water samples at the fish hatchery on Presque Isle Bay at the foot of Chestnut Street, testing for nutrients, temperature, conductivity, pH and dissolved oxygen.

"I took a pH, temperature and conductivity meter, and collected water samples back weekly to test for ammonia and phosphate concentration in the tank water," Dill said. "At the time, they had brown trout and cold water fish eggs that require a lot of oxygen, and need to be held at 50 degrees until they're fry. Then they can be released into the lake as game fish."

Dill was required to report her findings to S.O.N.S., and the data she collected will be used to create optimum conditions for hatching fish in the future. That's good news for the region's sport fisherman and the sport fishing economy they sustain.

It's also good news for Dill, who has been hunting and fishing since she was 12, "trout fishing mostly," she said. "I would like to go deep-sea fishing, someday. It makes sense. I've always had aquariums and liked fish."

She also enjoyed the opportunity to conduct independent research that brought her classroom studies to life. "I spent three years in the classroom, and you need that foundation," Dill said. "Actually doing it made you realize what you learned."