Florida foundation to fund unique river initiative

Student and professor in bio lab with plants
LaGrange College will launch a unique waterway exploration program thanks to a $200,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

The Chattahoochee River Research Program will bring together a selection of students from different fields of study, including chemistry, biology, digital creative media and film, psychological science, sociology, political science and history. Using kayaks, they will travel down the Chattahoochee River along points from North Georgia to Florida while conducting research, filming a documentary and gathering ecological samples.

Located in Jacksonville, Florida, the foundations were established in 1952 by philanthropist Arthur Vining Davis. Since then, they have given over 3,800 grants totaling more than $300 million to colleges and universities, hospitals, medical schools, divinity schools and public television.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations for choosing to fund this ambitious program,” said LaGrange College President Dan McAlexander. “This was an extremely competitive grant, and receiving it speaks to the reputation of our institution and the innovation and vision shown by our outstanding faculty members who collaborated on creating this program.”

The foundations are best known for their more than 50 years’ support of public television with a focus on national broadcasts for children’s educational programs. These include “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” “Cyberchase,” “Reading Rainbow” and “Between the Lions.” Grants from the foundations also have supported documentaries by renowned filmmaker Ken Burns, including “The Civil War,” “Baseball,” “The National Parks” and “The Vietnam War.”

Other higher education institutions that have received grants by the foundations include Dartmouth College, Emory University, Georgetown University, Princeton University, Spelman College, Stanford University School of Medicine and Yale University Divinity School.

“Receiving this grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations is a prestigious honor, and the resulting program will provide our students wonderful hands-on learning opportunities to study issues directly impacting our area,” McAlexander said. “Much like the Wilkinson Family Servant Scholars Program, this initiative combines academic rigor with real-world experience that will address issues affecting our community and beyond—in this case, the health of our waterway.”

The grant will help pay for the tools necessary to undertake the venture, including recording equipment for the documentary and research-related interviews as well as instruments to collect samples of water, soil, vegetation and microscopic organisms. Funds also will cover related resources for the college’s ecology lab, part of the new Ida Callaway Hudson Lab Sciences Building, allowing students to conduct experiments on these samples. One of the expected additions for the lab is a specialized furnace that will allow students to break down river soil samples to examine the components, natural and man-made, that mix with the river.

The documentary of the inaugural trip is planned to debut at the campus Mountainfilm Festival and be entered into the international Mountainfilm exhibition in Colorado. Student participants also will have opportunities to present their findings locally and at regional conferences, as well as collaborate with area agencies that have a shared interest in the waterway.

The program is “a strikingly bold idea,” said Dr. Karen Aubrey, the college’s Vice President for Academic Affairs. It was developed by a group of faculty members from different academic fields who are dedicated to the health of the Chattahoochee.

“The research program will offer students the opportunity to engage creatively with multiple disciplinary perspectives and with nonprofit organizations whose work ties into the river,” Aubrey said. “We are excited that the generosity of Arthur Vining Davis will allow us to provide such a unique and impactful program at LaGrange College.”