ALMA — It’s a common expression for people to say they like to “get their hands dirty,” but Tre’Quan LaFond really means it.
The Saginaw junior spent his summer in 2021 taking part in an independent study to determine levels of pollution in the Pine River, which runs about a half mile south of Alma College’s campus.
Doing so required LaFond to wade into the river — which is considered by government officials to be unsafe for human contact — and collect samples.
“There’s a lot of bacteria in the water that is considered to be resistant to antibiotics, so if you hurt yourself while you were in there, it would be really hard for doctors to treat,” said LaFond, an environmental studies major. “You had to be really careful and wear protective clothing. My hands were dry all summer because of the amount of hand sanitizer I was using.
“But it was fun,” LaFond continued. “I’m really interested in ecology, whole ecosystems, to determine what makes them work and how to preserve them in light of everything around them.”
LaFond, a graduate of the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy (SASA), said that a younger version of himself would have had a hard time imagining the place he’s in right now. Five years ago, he said, he was looking into attending larger state universities, and considering a career as a plastics engineer.
But a strong endorsement from Matthew Miller ’96, a teacher at SASA, made LaFond consider attending Alma. A campus tour later sealed the deal, and Lafond ended up going to college just 40 miles from home.
“The campus felt so small and personal. It was unlike any other tour I had taken up to that point. I see my friends at other public universities now, and while their campuses are beautiful, too, it seems like students don’t get the one-on-one attention we get here at Alma,” LaFond said.
In addition to his work outside, LaFond holds down a part-time job in the Alma College Information Technology Services (ITS) office, where he assists students, staff and faculty with any number of computer-related issues.
Working in ITS has allowed LaFond to gain a broad base of computer science-related skills, but perhaps more importantly, it has sharpened his people skills. That’s important for someone who wants to pursue a career that merges ecology with communication, as LaFond does.
“It’s really been an invaluable experience; something that gets me up, walking around and talking to all sorts of different people,” LaFond said. “My big goal eventually is to do research, but my secondary goal is public outreach. I want to be a scientist as well as a communicator, because I see the second goal as being necessary to be effective in the first.”
Working so closely with others — much like getting dirty in the Pine River — is an opportunity that could only come at Alma, LaFond believes.
“To be able to come here and do the research on something local, to go out and see what happens when stuff like agricultural waste goes into a river, it’s really striking and meaningful,” LaFond said. “At a different school, you’re probably reading about this in a book, but here, you’re seeing it in real time.”