February 09, 2011 | Theo Voss

Two Calvin College senior engineering students are among 30 undergraduate students nationwide to earn prestigious research fellowships from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Amanda Hayes and Rhiana Cok, both with civil and environmental concentrations, are in the second year of their two-year undergraduate fellowships from the EPA’s Greater Research Opportunities program (GRO).

Both received the GRO fellowship in their junior year after a summer of research with engineering professor David Wunder. The fellowship provides for tuition, books, and a monthly stipend and encourages their continued research under Professor Wunder.

When she first heard about the opportunity from her professors Hayes said, she thought: “I must not have heard that right. There’s no way that someone would give that much money,”


The GRO fellowship is given to students studying at schools that already receive a certain amount of federal funding to encourage student involvement in research. Through the GRO fellowship, the student interns at one of several EPA facilities nationwide. Cok researched treatment of water purification waste at the Cincinnati lab, and Hayes researched waste reduction for various businesses at the Atlanta lab.

The student also undertakes a research project based at her (his) own college.

Hayes focused on using bagasse, a byproduct of sugar cane refinement, to treat water. Hayes is researching how that charcoal filters various organic compounds out of the water, such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

Cok took over a line of research from the previous two GRO fellowship students at Calvin, Val Horstman and Corinne Kluge, started. She is researching a process of water purification called slow-sand filtration. The research improves understanding of how pharmaceutical compounds interact with the slow-sand filtration process used throughout the world.

Working with Wunder

Cok believes her research experience has helped her to mature as a student. Hayes says: “Doing the research definitely did make me think of class material way more seriously.”

Both Cok and Hayes have enjoyed working with Wunder.

“I would get really frustrated with research for a number of reasons, or I would mess something up and feel horrible and I would go talk with him, and by the end of talking to him I’d feel energized and ready to do it again because he’s so into it,” Hayes said.

 “He gives you a lot of room to set your own pace, do your own thing, and then, as soon as you get any kind of question he was very easy to go to.” Cok says, “He has that excitement. He’s been there, he knows how hard research can be.”

Wunder has also enjoyed working with the two engineers: “Amanda really has a creative flair,” he said, and. “Rhiana is amazingly balanced in terms of what she does. She is highly organized and really able to juggle a lot of things at once. They’re both wonderful students—a great blessing to work with.”

Going into engineering, neither student knew exactly what she wanted to do.

Cok’s DCM in Global Climate Change and her involvement in Calvin’s Renewable Energy Organization led her to choose civil and environmental engineering. “Being able to help human beings in such a large way is just awesome. So that really just started to become my own passion and led me to wanting to do environmental.”

Hayes said her passion for missions and development work in developing countries led her to civil and environmental engineering; the GRO fellowship means that after graduation, she can pursue a master’s international program or perhaps pursue inner-city teaching. “I think that there’s a lot of good that engineering can do in the world,” she said.

Engineering professor David Wunder

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