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UW-Eau Claire receives $133,000 from Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin to train next generation of water scientists

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire geology professor Dr. J. Brian Mahoney shows high schooler Quinten Anger how to use a colorimetric kit to measure nitrate concentration in the Chippewa River. Anger was part of a summer 2021 pilot course aimed at recruiting students to water science. (Submitted photo)

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is eligible to receive $133,000 in support from the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin this year to enhance its water-related academic programs.

The funding is part of a statewide initiative, backed by the Wisconsin state Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers, to tackle 10 identified “grand water challenges” in the state. The funds, which are in the final stages of institutional review and approval, may be used for undergraduate research opportunities, career development and field training for students interested in studying water-related fields.

The three state water challenges designated by the Freshwater Collaborative Wisconsin (FCW) for projects at UW-Eau Claire are:

  • Agricultural water management.
  • Water quality safety and emerging contaminants.
  • Healthy recreational and transportation uses of waterways.

Dr. J. Brian Mahoney, UW-Eau Claire professor of geology and co-principal investigator on the campus grant proposal, explains both the Freshwater Collaborative and the implementation of this funding at UW-Eau Claire.

“This consortium procured funding from the state Legislature for the UW System to develop a statewide collaborative teaching and research organization focused on fresh water,” Mahoney says. “By bringing the weight and interdisciplinary power of the universities to the state’s water challenges, we can dramatically increase the freshwater workforce over the next 10 years — statewide graduates specifically prepared to solve these problems.”  

Mahoney outlined the three major campus initiatives funded by the FCW that will bring together faculty and resources at UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout, UW Oshkosh and UW-River Falls.

1: Recruitment of high school students interested in water science: $51,000 allocation

The largest allocation of funds will support a collaborative high school outreach program consisting of a one-week “Freshwater Science Summer Field Experience.” This program will introduce freshwater science to 14 regional high school students, exposing them not only to UW System campuses but also to the various challenges and career opportunities within the water sector. A pilot of this outreach course was conducted in August 2021, and the FCW will fund the second offering of the course in August 2022.

2: Summer research for college students: $39,000 in funding 

The second major initiative creates active learning, high-impact practices centered on freshwater science.

The second element of grant will be a  series of “Freshwater Science Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates,” is provided by $39,000 of FCW funds and matching funds from the UW-Eau Claire Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. It will offer 10 collaborative freshwater research projects among students and faculty at UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout and UW-River Falls during the summer of 2022. 

3: New collaborative freshwater field course: $43,000 allocation 

A third high-impact experience will be the “Western Wisconsin Advanced Freshwater Field Course.” A collaboration among UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout, UW-River Falls and UW Oshkosh, this immersive eight-day two-credit course combines course content from the departments of geology, biology, geography, agriculture and environmental science at the different campuses.

Supported by $43,000 of the FWC funding, the course will provide university students across the UW System in‐depth exposure to freshwater issues in Wisconsin that surpasses curriculum options available through any individual institution or program. The pilot offering of the course will be offered in late May 2022.

Bringing all the players to one table

Overall, the Freshwater Collaborative Wisconsin will support 42 grants to further develop UW System-wide water science programs, internships and research opportunities for high school and undergraduate students. The collaborative also is partnering with industry, nonprofits and community organizations to increase career development opportunities for students.

“Water is one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy,” said Marissa Jablonski, executive director for the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin. “With these funds, the 13 UW System universities can expand training opportunities for students, prepare them to meet the needs of Wisconsin’s workforce and address our state’s biggest water challenges.”

Mahoney echoes those points and is excited for the role UW-Eau Claire will play in this statewide push to focus both on meeting the state’s water challenges and educating the next generation of water scientists.

“It’s a diverse group of stakeholders bringing freshwater science expertise and enthusiasm to students who will leave the UW System equipped to focus on freshwater topics,” Mahoney says.