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WKU student attends U.N. water resources workshop in China

Megan Laffoon, a WKU sophomore from Louisville, returned this week from Guilin, China, where she attended a two-week training workshop on water resources at UNESCO’s International Research Center on Karst (IRCK).

Megan Laffoon

Megan Laffoon

Laffoon was one of 17 students on five continents selected for the program, the “International Training Course on Karst Hydrogeological Investigation, Dynamic Monitoring, and Applications in River Basins,” with all trip expenses paid for by IRCK and its sponsors. IRCK operates under the auspices of the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

The training course offered Laffoon an opportunity to gain experience related to both of her academic pursuits at WKU, her study of biology and her language study as a participant in the Chinese Language Flagship Program at WKU. She has developed a focus on environmental problems in rural southwest China, with an eye toward working to creatively develop solutions that may ultimately help to improve the quality of life for rural Chinese facing water resource and other environmental challenges.

“These two weeks were an incredible opportunity that not only allowed me to learn from some of the brilliant minds in karst hydrology,” Laffoon said, “but also gave me the opportunity to utilize my Chinese language skills in both a practical and professional setting.”

Both Chinese scientists and Guilin’s local residents were helpful in assisting Laffoon with practicing and developing her Chinese, for example, suggesting new vocabulary words.

“We are very lucky to have an intensive Chinese language program at WKU,” said Dr. Chris Groves, Distinguished Professor of Hydrogeology in the Department of Geography and Geology, who with her advisor Dr. Albert Meier of WKU’s Biology Department, is working with Laffoon on her Honors research program. “In this case, language proficiency adds a new dimension to an existing high level of student research engagement in WKU’s long-standing research program in working to understand water resources challenges in China’s karst regions.”

Although the primary focus was on the training course, Laffoon took the opportunity while in China to make observations and better understand local issues related to her evolving Honors thesis research. Her work seeks to evaluate different processes that might help to reverse the serious soil loss problems that have stemmed from widespread deforestation in China’s karst regions. Karst areas, widespread through much of southwest China, are those like here in south central Kentucky where caves, sinkholes and related features are common, and which present serious water resource challenges as much of the water is in the subsurface.

Professor Jianjun He, Academic Director of the Flagship Program, also expressed his enthusiasm for this unique experience. “This trip is exemplary of the goal of the Chinese Flagship Program at WKU, which emphasizes professional proficiency in the language. This opportunity in China is only the first of many opportunities Megan will have in the coming years to merge her passion for karst hydrology with her passion for the Chinese language.”

Contact: Chris Groves, (270) 745-5974.

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