Ecosystem for Learning Series: The Raritan River, A Swiftly Flowing Classroom and Lab

This Spotlight article is part of the An Ecosystem for Learning series, in which we discuss spaces, programs, and people who are helping to create a university in which classrooms and courses are linked with other spaces and contexts, and students are encouraged to actively engage in the learning process--to create, collaborate, and innovate during their time at Rutgers.

For many in the Rutgers community, the Raritan River is a scenic geographical feature to travel along and across in the course of our daily peregrinations. Some of us use the river and its adjacent parks and trails for recreation and exercise. What might not be as visible to the casual observer is the host of unique opportunities for teaching and research offered by the river and its surroundings. With an increasing list of use cases and resources emerging in recent years, the Raritan is a vibrant component of the Rutgers Ecosystem for Learning.

Courses that utilize the Raritan range from General Biology, whose enrollees test samples along the river bank, to Advanced Environmental Geomatics, where students study the relationship between land use and water quality. Meanwhile, internships pair undergraduate students with local nonprofits to conduct research projects.

Rutgers researchers from various schools and departments ply the Raritan and its watershed. One recent study investigated microplastic pollution in the river – and employed three Rutgers students to collect and analyze data – while another investigated the biodegradability of pharmaceutical and personal care products in the river environment.

The Rutgers Raritan River Consortium, or R3C, was founded in 2016 and promotes and supports many of these activities. Its resource-rich Web site contains information on open access to data, reports and studies, conferences and workshops, a list of community partners, and more.

Working in close collaboration with R3C is the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative, housed at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. The SRRI was formed in 2009 to promote science-based planning and policy. It works to coordinate and expand the university’s engagement with external partners including watershed organizations, federal, state and local governments, non-profit community based organizations, businesses and others.

Also notable: the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences has a 20-person landing craft that is available for rental, allowing observation and data collection along the river. A Rutgers Today video provides a closer look.