The 12th annual Susquehanna River Symposium, held at Bucknell University Nov. 10–11, attracted scientists, engineers and government regulators. But at its opening, a spiritual leader took the stage.
As more than 200 attendees watched with rapt attention on the symposium's first night, Tom Porter, the founder, spokesperson and spiritual leader of the upstate New York Mohawk Community of Kanatsiohareke, reminded them why their work is so important: the waters of the Susquehanna River are "indispensable" to those living along its shores, he said.
"Everything that we need, that water satisfies us," said Porter, whose Mohawk name, Sakokwenionkwas, means "the one who wins." "We are to love the waters of the world. We are never to molest them. We are never to disrespect them. We want our children and their children seven generations ahead to be refreshed with the same water."
Porter's keynote address, which recounted the Iroquois creation story, represented a different view of the river for many in his audience and set the tone for the symposium, which aims to gather a diverse group of researchers and foster connections and collaborations to improve the river's environmental health.
"I've never heard anything like it before," said Jacob Mendelowitz '18, a computer engineering major who presented a poster about his research following Porter's speech, adding that the speech provided a humanist viewpoint that can inform the more technical aspects of the symposium. Mendelowitz said he's experienced the same enrichment in his undergraduate work at Bucknell.
"The river makes this a culture-rich area," he said. "As an engineer, being able to apply my skills to something where we get such a rich incorporation of local history and culture has had a great effect on the work I've done and my outlook on life."
"For me, it's good to stay up on the current research and see what's going on on the academic side of the work that I'm out doing," said Emily Guillen '13 of engineering firm RK&K, who attended the symposium with co-worker and fellow civil engineering graduate Erin Cox '15.
"Conferences like this also help to prepare students," she continued. "We gained a lot of experience speaking in public about the research opportunities we had here and speaking to alumni who came back to hire and recruit. It prepared us for the presentations we give at conferences now, where we're speaking to crowds filled with people who are much more knowledgeable than we are."
The research poster session at the symposium provided such an opportunity to students attending from Bucknell and 14 other institutions from as far away as Georgia. Posters representing work by 15 Bucknell undergraduates working with eight faculty advisers were presented. Savannah Weaver '20, an environmental science major and Presidential Fellow who presented water-sampling work she did at a tributary of the Susquehanna, said Bucknell's location on the West Branch of the Susquehanna provides deep opportunities for hands-on work.
"I'm doing research on Buffalo Creek, I have this research project, and then over the summer I'm planning to stay on campus and do research on the actual Susquehanna River," Weaver said. "Overall, this area gives you a lot of opportunities to work with water."
Porter noted that work like that of Weaver and others attending the conference represents the spirit of living in harmony with the river.
"What is our job — this university, other universities, mothers and fathers?" he asked. "Our job is to rebuild the fires despite the sun shining, so that every light can be seen, every light can be warmed by the great life."
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