Collaborating and Connecting Through Water Analysis

Project summary

I met with my collaborator face-to-face twice prior to the start of the semester to discuss the goals and metrics to assess the goals. We also discussed the focus of the lab investigations and timing for the high school students to travel to Harper’s campus. We finalized the details of the investigations, worked out specifics with the high school administration in order to bring the high school class on two field trips to Harper, and planned a campus tour.

The high school students and college students introduced themselves prior to the first visit by exchanging PowerPoint presentations. Twenty-two high school students and nineteen college students participated in the project. Students worked in groups of 2-3 high school students and 2-3 college students to promote collaborative group work.

On October 21, students collected a water sample from the lake and tested the quality of the water according to five parameters. They also made a filter to clean another dirty water sample. On November 18, students conducted flame tests as a background lab to help understand the operation of the Inductively Coupled Plasma spectrophotometer (ICP), prepared standard solutions, and prepared water samples for analysis of 14 ions using the ICP. Students loaded their samples, but the ICP malfunctioned and could not be repaired until the spring semester, so no results were obtained. 


  1. Participating students studied topics relevant to their coursework and project, conducted laboratory investigations, and presented their results.
  2. Post-activity surveys indicated that students learned new techniques and some water chemistry. Follow-up surveys will indicate how many continue their science courses.
  3. Evaluation of and feedback on the college students’ interactions with the high school students led to improved mentorship skills of the former.
  4. The high school students learned more about what college is like so they may be better prepared for that transition.
  5. The revised lab activities developed for this project have been incorporated into the chemistry course curriculum.

Most successful aspect

The most successful aspect of the project was providing the high school students with the opportunity to visit a college campus and to carry out an actual investigation in the college laboratory with college students. This enabled the high school students to experience a day in the life of a college student with the added insight of an actual college student. This is especially valuable for first generation college students.

Tips for similar projects

Design the activity so that it can be conducted in a single day and ensure the visiting students have adequate time at the host school so they can discuss the results in person. Visiting students should have time to discuss their goals and experiences, meet faculty in different disciplines, tour the library, visit some of the support centers, and meet with staff in the Center for New Students.

Additionally, the college students acting as mentors should practice facilitating group work, explaining the investigation, and answering questions in advance of the activity. 

Next steps

We will continue to follow the high school students who participated in this project until they graduate to determine whether their interest in science and their decision to attend college was impacted by their participation in the project.

If we can secure funding for transportation, we would like to continue the collaboration so that the high school students have an opportunity to visit a college campus, talk to college students, and work with the college students on a lab project in a college lab. The collaboration will also give the college students planning on becoming teachers an opportunity to develop their mentoring and teaching skills. We will also plan additional lab projects that can be completed in one day for the groups of students to work on together.

Materials produced