students working in wetland area
Senior design students at Newlin Grist Mill wetland area
Ryan S. Brandenberg

Engineering senior design teams often follow their projects outside the lab and into the field. Or, in one team's case, upstream to Delaware County.

Partnering with the Newlin Grist Mill, a nonprofit historical center, civil engineering students Trent Pepper, Jeffrey Pepin, Shaun Spadea and Wengang Liu are working to enhance and expand a wetland area situated on the 160-acre park. The team wants to provide additional wetland habitat for the current species that inhabit the area while possibly attracting more wildlife.

"The expansion will double the current wetland size right now," Pepper said. "One of the most important tasks is changing the location and type of inlet structure. Turtles have gotten stuck in the current inlet and died, so obviously we want to construct a new inlet to help avoid that and keep them safe."

The team works with advisors, Dr. Robert Ryan, Civil Engineering Professor at Temple University, Kevin Magerr an environmental engineer, who also sits on the Newlin board, and Charles Rhodes an ecologist. Both Mr. Magerr and Mr. Rhodes are retired EPA alumni with a combined 70 years of experience in the environmental field. 

"This project provides the students with the opportunity to the practice applied sciences in the fields of hydrology, hydraulics and pollution controls, along with project management, working with the client on design considerations, and the regulatory agencies to address environmental issues," Magerr said.

During a recent field visit, the team completed surveying and is looking to return with more equipment to gather additional data.

"It has been a good real-world experience. To apply what we have learned to a project like this is something we are all excited about," Pepper said. "We know that it can provide a lot of benefits to the mill as well as the people who like to visit."

Though wetlands provide vital ecosystem services for flood control, water quality control and aquatic habitats, many systems have given way to expanding development. According to Magerr, the ideal outcome would be to enhance and double the existing emergent forested wetland (a wetland category that has been severely impacted).

The team also hopes it will deliver an expanded outdoor classroom for students and adults as a way of educating on the value of wetland systems. According to Newlin staff, about 900 students visited the wetland between field trips, summer camps, and public programs last year.

"The mill was founded on the preservation of history and open space, conservation of plants, animals, and waterways and as a place for both education and recreation," Magerr said. "This project will live on as a centerpiece to the mill's environmental enhancement and education mission."