Capstone Project Starts Alum’s Career in Water Research
Senior Research Experience Key Part of U of I Environmental Science Program
It’s not exactly easy for Cody Piscitelli to get into a boat. A motocross accident as a teenager confined him to a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop him from fully participating his B.S. Environmental Science senior capstone project, conducting water research on a lake near Coeur d’Alene.
As an undergraduate, Piscitelli worked with Professor Frank Wilhelm on a project to study oxygen concentrations in a wetland bordering Lake Fernan as part of a larger nutrient dynamic study in the lake. They placed probes on the lake in three different locations and analyzed the results in the lab.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important that capstone project was and how beneficial it was to me,”Cody Piscitelli, ’17
Piscitelli ’17 is now a master’s student at Oregon State University, conducting research with the EPA on ground water quality. He credits his capstone project with helping him succeed in graduate school.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important that capstone project was and how beneficial it was to me,” said Piscitelli. “It gave me experience doing field and laboratory research and working closely with a professor. Instead of just typical courses and doing homework, I got to basically work like a graduate student.”
Every environmental science student at U of I undertakes a senior research project with a faculty mentor. The topics of these projects vary according to students’ interest. Environmental science is a highly interdisciplinary program including faculty from law, agriculture, engineering, art and architecture as well as natural resources.
Piscitelli recommends the program to students who may not be initially sure what specific area they want to purse. “You learn a little bit of everything,” he said. “It’s really good for helping you figure out what you want to do.”
The environmental science program helped Piscitelli find his passion for water research. He started out studying at North Idaho College near his hometown of Coeur d’Alene before transferring to U of I. He found he enjoyed learning about aquatic sciences and became interested in eutrophication -- the enrichment of water from excess nutrients -- and how it impacts lake ecology. He also became interested in how policy influences change.
At the end of Piscitelli’s capstone project, he wrote up the research in a format that he said was essentially a “mini-thesis.” Through the six-month project, he met with his advising professor on a weekly basis.
“Working with Cody was a great experience that brought a unique challenge I had not previously encountered as faculty,” said Wilhelm. “With his positive attitude and some ingenuity, we not only ensured he could access what he needed in the lab but also outfitted him in the boat so he could reach everything including the probes in the lake. Cody’s project contributed key seasonal data to understand the oxygen regime and thus nutrient dynamics in the wetland and the lake.”
Piscitelli said he enjoyed working so closely with his faculty mentor.
“Frank is really selfless. He would take as much time as needed to make sure I understood, and he trusted me in his lab,” he said. “I had such a fun time working with him. I can’t thank him enough. This was a fantastic opportunity.”
Article by Sara Zaske, College of Natural Resources
Published May 2019