CELEBRATE! profile: Samuel Shoge ’11

Many people don’t think twice about water, or how new roads, parking lots and buildings to accommodate a growing population can harm water quality. As Elon University senior Samuel Shoge discovered in Alamance County, more asphalt and concrete means more pollution in local streams and lakes, and his work is the latest to be featured in a series of E-net profiles on undergraduate research to be presented during CELEBRATE! 2011.

After collecting data from aerial photos and satellite images and using the comprehensive ArcGIS software, Shoge mapped the increase of impervious surfaces, those areas in which water does not infiltrate into the ground, in the county from 1984 to 2010. He overlapped that information against existing water quality data during the same period.

“I wanted to see how well our data correlated with quality water data,” the environmental studies major and geographic information science minor says. “It matched up pretty well, actually.”

Besides establishing an inverse relationship between the two – as the percentage of impervious surfaces increased, the quality of water decreased – Shoge was able to identify eight high-risk watersheds in Little Alamance Creek that did not support sustainable levels of biological integrity.

Shoge says his research is a good place for local officials to start thinking about smart ways to plan future growth. For instance, by using existing techniques, technologies and methods that accommodate for natural percolation to the soil, they can not only improve water quality but also curtail flash floods.

He says officials can use his research to prioritize spending by focusing on improving first those watersheds that need it the most, particularly if funds are limited.

Ryan Kirk, an assistant professor of geography and environmental studies who supervised Shoge’s research, says he was impressed by Shoge’s interest in conducting research relevant to local environmental management.

This project has already provided valuable data that is being used by the City of Burlington to address EPA-mandated water quality improvement initiatives,” Kirk says. “His final report will be distributed to a variety of local and regional organizations who are striving to improve water quality in our waterways.”

Shoge’s interest in geographical information system – the merging of cartography, statistical analysis and database technology – was first sparked years ago by SimCity, a video game that allows users to build and design their own metropolis.

That, combined with his interest in the natural world and the environment developed as a child who watched nature documentaries on the National Geographic and Discovery channels, account for his career and research focus.

“It’s been pretty cool to apply things I did on a video game to a more realistic scenario,” Shoge says, adding that his recent research has given him a new outlook. “It allowed me to learn things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”

Shoge’s research was conducted during the 2010 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, which allowed him to spend eight weeks working on this project with Kirk’s help. He also presented his findings in February at the North Carolina GIS Conference and will be one of dozens of students participating in this year’s Spring Undergraduate Research Forum on April 27.

The native of Maryland’s Eastern Shore says water quality should concern everyone because as the sources of fresh water diminish across the globe, water can potentially be the next resource to be at the center of international conflicts.

If we continue to pollute the sources we have, water will be rarer and rarer,” he says, which coupled with continued population growth does not paint a positive outlook for the future. “We seem to be stuck in a rut. We’re so used to expanding, it will take a paradigm shift to be able to grow smarter.”

Shoge says he plans to pursue a career in higher education administration and has been accepted into the public administration graduate program at University of Baltimore in Maryland.


– Written by Keren Rivas ’04, Office of University Relations