Technical Communication Students to Present at National Conference


Montana Tech Professional and Technical Communication undergraduate, Mariah Sheble, and Montana Tech alum, Cole Berg, will present at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) held on the campus of the University of Kentucky in April. The team’s documentary film and abstract, “Drink the water, you’ll grow an extra toe: Is Butte Water Safe to Drink?” was chosen from more than 4,000 submissions.

Sheble and Berg completed the project as part of their undergraduate research on campus in the spring of 2013. Sheble and Berg will attend the conference along with faculty advisor and Montana Tech Technical Communication Assistant Professor Nick Hawthorne.

"I am very excited to have our Undergraduate Research Project chosen for the National Conference on Undergraduate Research,” noted Sheble, who is from Valier, MT. “I am looking forward to presenting our documentary and I am happy we were chosen to present." Sheble will graduate from Montana Tech in May 2015 and hopes to work in the music industry at a record label doing graphics or video.

Berg added, “I couldn't have been more thrilled about Mariah and I getting into the conference.   When we started out to film this project, I never would have figured it to have the impact it ended up having. The hours and research we put into creating the film definitely justifies the positive reaction it received. Our project mentor Nick Hawthorne was with us every step of the way to provide much needed advice. I can't wait to show the film at the University of Kentucky.” Berg, who graduated in 2013, works for Sysco Foods Montana as a Marketing Associate.

“This is a great opportunity not only for the students presenting, but also for the Professional and Technical Communication department,” noted Hawthorne. “Berg and Sheble worked extensively on filming, editing, investigative reporting, script development and scheduling interviews with professionals in their field of work. We, as a department, are pleased to see our students’ hard work come together to help educate not only the public of Butte, but at a national conference.”

The documentary film project explored an important public health question and the peculiar nature of the water system in Butte, Montana. Their qualitative research question was, “Is Butte’s water safe to drink?” As college students new to Butte, the two were shocked to hear people tell them things like, “Drink Butte water and you’ll grow an extra toe.”

Safe drinking water is a public health priority. The students wondered if coming to Butte was a bad idea, and if Butte’s government had somehow failed its public health responsibilities.

The project employed qualitative communication research methods by accomplishing the following:

  • Documented the quality of Butte's water according to water system engineers, professionals with expertise in water-born pathogens, historical authorities, and political leaders;
  • Used information and concepts from these content experts to provide detailed explanations of our research questions;
  • Focused on the aesthetics of good visual and audio communication to produce an attractive and informational video;
  • Employed rhetorical theories of health and technical communication to develop strategies for a persuasive, truth-based investigation of Butte's water system;
  • Translated technical engineering and scientific knowledge about Butte's water system to a message that could be understood by concerned citizens with no technical expertise; and
  • Citizens who view this documentary can use the knowledge they gain from it to make informed decisions about Butte's water system.

The students concluded that Butte’s water system significantly improved beginning in 1983.  Most of the water is now processed by state-of-the-art water filtration and treatment plants.  The water is as clean as or cleaner than other American cities. Work remains to be done: Butte will build one additional treatment plant for a source historically exempt from treatment and finish replacing old pipes so that water is uncontaminated from the filtration plants to consumers’ taps.

A link to the video can be found here: Water Sp13

Montana INBRE funded the students and the project.

For more information, please contact Amanda Badovinac at or 406-496-4828.