Pennsylvania Western University California is among the recipients of the 2024 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for wetlands restoration work at Presque Isle State Park.

Led by Dr. Robert Whyte, a plant ecologist and professor in the PennWest Department of Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, the PennWest California campus has been directly involved in wetlands restoration work at Presque Isle State Park since 2011.

The award-winning conservation project has focused on controlling invasive species of plants and restoring the native mixed emergent marsh communities within the park.

The third phase of this initiative, currently underway, is expanding the acreage restored and revisiting earlier sites to monitor progress.

“With 4 million visitors annually, Presque Isle is by far the largest state park, with the greatest biodiversity,” Whyte said. “Environmentally, the park is extremely important to the state and the overall health of Lake Erie, and this award recognizes the importance of the work we are doing. I love the science but in particular the opportunity to collaborate with so many people and directly engage with the public.”

PennWest California shares the award with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Erie Bird Conservatory and the Regional Science Consortium.

The Regional Science Consortium, housed in the research wing of the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle State Park, has been an active part of the scientific research community fostering numerous collaborations on a variety of topics.

Active RSC members include PennWest Edinboro, universities, state agencies, non-profits and local businesses that have access to laboratory space, equipment, grant opportunities and research collaborations. The mission of the RSC is to promote and enhance our knowledge and understanding of the Lake Erie and Ohio River Basin ecosystems through research and education.

PennWest University California has been an active member since 2007. Because of this collaborative effort, every summer, PennWest students have the opportunity to do paid internships at Presque Isle.  

“This has been great for the university and our students in the biology and environmental science programs,” Whyte said. “Our students receive direct hands-on experience and are exposed to various environmental professionals and the agencies and organizations they work for.”

An environmental science degree at PennWest prepares students for careers in conservation, ecology, sustainability, and related fields.

“The number one question I get (from students and their parents) is how relatable an environmental science degree is to the real world and what hands-on experience will students receive. The work at Presque Isle has been a tremendous benefit to our students.”