Saturday, August 23, 2014

It Takes a Watershed to Clean a Lake: Trust and Relationship Building in Environmental Regulation

Poster presentations at the Raw Deal (Photo taken by Chris Ferguson)
Trust forms the backbone of all relationships—between family members, friends and…policy actors and the community? Over the last few months I have been interviewing and observing policy actors (practitioners, policy makers, officials, and organization members) who have influence over the creation, implementation, and enforcement of environmental regulations in the Red Cedar Watershed. This research is a part of the research conducted by the Linking Applied Knowledge in Environmental Sustainability Research Experience for Undergraduates (LAKES REU) at UW-Stout. My goal was to gain an understanding of the ways that policy actors view land use and water pollution in the watershed, their opinions on the effectiveness of current policies, programs, as well as the decision-making process behind those environmental policies.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A little late, but it counts right?

First off sorry everyone for the delay, but I took two long and amazing canoe trips. One of which I had planned since January and one that was a last second idea with a friend. The past two weeks which I spent entirely technology free minus one night that I came home to get supplies and leave for my families annual BWCA trip gave me a lot of time to reflect on my experiences this summer.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The End

Throughout the summer, my research partner and I studied the Groundwater and Surface Water interactions of the Red Cedar River Watershed. We gathered preliminary data for hopefully more promising years to come. By using Solinst Data Loggers that measure water stage and barometric pressure and then taking cross sections, depth, and flow measurements at our three stream sites (Wilson Creek, Tiffany Creek, South Fork of Hay River) we were able to measure the baseflow and stormflow during the 8 weeks we spent in Menomonie, WI.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

8 weeks over... still struggles with titles

Here it is, folks! My previous blogs have touched a bit on my summer research but without much detail. In part, this is because my research project took time to develop and really take shape. Now that the summer is over, I will do my best to summarize my research and findings.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The End of a Beginning to Something Great

For our last blog post, we were asked to write about what our results and what we find most important from this summer (at the end is the touchy feely stuff and the internet in the sticks runs slow so no pictures for now).

The purpose of this study was to better understand the impact that farmers' relationships have on individual farming behavior. To do this, we surveyed and interviewed farmers about BMP adoption as well as who they would name as their closest farming colleagues. From this information, we were able to create a social network map. This research project and experience revealed a lot of useful data as well as allowed student researchers to form some valuable connections to landowners and local farmers.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Leaving Neverland, searching for Narnia

I admit it. 

I fell off the blog train somewhere past the second star to the left. But it's time to grow up and fulfill my duty to the REU blog page. Now that the summer is over, I view this blog as my super informal conclusion that has nothing to do with my research and everything to do with what I learned. In it, you will find a bunch of nonsensical nonsense... or infinite wisdom (depends how much alcohol you consume and how long you sit and stare at it). 

May you find enlightenment. :)

BMPs and BFFs

This summer, I surveyed Wisconsin farmers to understand trends in BMP adoption by capturing the economic landscape of Wisconsin farms. Best Management Practices (BMPs) are ecologically sensitive alternatives to conventional farming practices. Soil loss and declining soil health are of heightening concern to Wisconsin farmers, policymakers, and citizens as these issues can be detrimental to profits and yields and can damage water quality through sedimentation and nutrient loading. BMPs can mitigate soil loss, but their effectiveness is still debated.

Friday, August 8, 2014

"We're pretty good at doing stuff"

I tutor Sociology at Colorado State University, and the question I receive most frequently from my forlorn students is "uuuhhhhh, why does Sociology even matter?" This has become my favorite question, because the answer is simpler than you would expect...

Empty nest feeling

I've put off writing my mentoring blog post because every time I start thinking about the students I've mentored over the years (and especially those from this summer) I get too choked up to keep writing.  It's hard being a mentor, for me, mostly because if you do a good job then these students who you've watched grow and learn and mature and who you're so proud of go off into the big world and don't need you anymore.  Which is both really sad and really happy for me.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

We tax for baseball?

I spent my summer surveying citizens in and around Menomonie and faculty, staff, and students at UW-Stout. The goal: to find out how much the community values a cleaner Lake Menomin and which cleanup policies they would be most supportive of.

I asked people whether or not they’d be willing to support three different payment mechanisms that would fund a lake cleanup—an additional 0.1% sales tax, a $10 monthly water bill addition, and a $120 annual property tax addition.  

I found that, by far, the greatest support is for an additional 0.1% sales tax. In my sample, almost 90% said they would pay the sales tax if it cleaned the lake for the whole summer (67% if it cleaned the lake for an additional month of summer), while only about 50% supported both the water bill and the property tax additions.

What this means for policymakers is that if they need to implement some sort of tax to bring in revenue to fund a lake cleanup, they should choose a sales tax addition and not a water bill or property tax addition. If a 0.1% sales tax were put to a popular vote, it would pass with a substantial majority

Sales tax additions of 0.1% have worked in Wisconsin (think of Baseball Stadium District tax in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington, and Waukesha countries), and the overwhelming support in my survey suggests it would work here as well. If people can get behind a tax to fund a baseball stadium, certainly they can get behind a tax to protect their health and livelihoods.

A 0.1% tax, or a mere $1 for every $1000 spent, sounds small. But when applied to the entire Dunn County, it could bring in close to $400,000 annually. Keep this tax for a few years, and the county will have generated over $1 million for lake cleanup efforts. I don’t know if $1 million is enough to clean Lake Menomin, and it may not even be a dent. But it’s a start, and with lake toxin levels at dangerous levels for human and animal health year-round, we need a start.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An Ode to Menomin

Oh wondrous puddle of emerald hue
With thy phosphorus-tinctured waters.
The summer's day holds folks at bay
With a symphony of odors. 
Each season brings a cornucopia
A fetid, liquid plasma
Of vig'rous cyanobacteria
and accompanied miasma. 
Thy verdant shores drive away hordes
of visitors with playthings.
Olfactory hurdles and waves a-curdled
Diminish their sunbathing. 
What mysteries lie beneath your waves
Wrapped in an undulating viridian strand?
Can we comprehend your lacustrine ken
While perched upon the land? 
Measure and sample carefully
To frame thy nutrient cycles properly;
A claim of knowing might sound indulgent,
But eliminating the causes would make us effulgent. 
Oh wondrous puddle of emerald hue
Oh raucous, glaucus algae.
The summer's days we've worked away
To tease apart your quandary.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mentoring Ethnography

This summer has been a learning experience for me.  I have mentored amazing students in my few years at Stout, but this marks my first time working with students on a multi-disciplinary team on overlapping aspects of a complex problem.  Cultural anthropologists, more often than not, work on research alone.  We tend to hold on to the idea of a lone fieldworker individually building rapport and embedding themselves in a community for a long period of time.  This kind of work is extremely valuable, and even indispensable for answering some questions. That model of research also often means that anthropologists get particular kinds of mentoring.  In my case, I had a couple of amazing mentors who helped me understand the issues I was researching and helped me navigate the literature on those topics.  They were also extremely supportive when the inevitable set-backs in ethnographic research arose.  At the same time, like a lot of anthropologists I suspect, fieldwork was somewhat an unknown before I started.  I got more research methods training than some of my colleagues in the discipline, but there was still a tendency to see ethnographic fieldwork as a rite of passage and a research method that must be experienced to really “get.” To borrow Matt’s metaphor and mix it with another, it is was somewhat like getting kicked out of the nest all at once with only a very sketchy map.

The model of research I’m used to and my experience as a mentee mean that mentoring students in this summer was challenging for me.  We only had 8 weeks, and although Zakia and Rachel came in with particular experiences that gave them an “in” for their projects, they were new to the community (as am I, only having lived here 3 years).  I planned activities in the early weeks that, I hoped, would let them learn about the community and practice research skills before they were directly collecting data for the project.  I wanted them to get a sense of the rest of the project, so we all spent time listening to the process of survey creation and analysis. I also tried to strike a balance between letting them control their projects, getting experience without me hovering, and providing guidance and support. 
I’m not sure in the end that I was completely successful.  What I do know is that I have been continually impressed by Zakia and Rachel.  Our projects progressed MUCH faster than I had hoped, and they collected a large amount of data in a short period of time.  It was also fun to see them get excited about the process, become recognized around the community, and be invited to observe various aspects of the policy making/implementation process.  I hope I contributed something to their experience that will be valuable as they continue college and move into their future careers.  I know I learned a lot from working with them.

Keeping track of all your data

It's week seven already! That means our students are collecting their last samples and surveys for a poster session at The Raw Deal in Menomonie this next tuesday. Looking back, between my group and Steve's we went through nearly a 500-count bag of 125 mL plastic Nalgene bottles.

Several hundred bottles, waiting to be acid-washed and put back into service.

Most of these bottles had water samples to test for phosphorus and chlorophyll-a. A single day out in the field might produce 25 or more samples, each of which needs to be run through a series of steps before we can actually measure what we're looking for.

Blake with 53 samples lined up, awaiting phosphorus analysis.

And then there is the data logging equipment - either sondes that you drop over the side of a boat and it records a whole bunch of parameters as you lower it to the bottom, or the pressure/temperature sensors that we've installed in several streams to record changes in stream depth and water temperature. You can record data every few minutes or even every few seconds.

All of this ends up as data. Spreadsheets full of numbers. Numbers from different sensors, numbers from different days, numbers from different sites. It can get confusing. So one of the things we try to stress to the students is the importance of maintaining organized notes, labeling sample containers before you collect the material, even using a shorthand to keep locations and instruments organized.

For this project we have about 15 temperature and pressure loggers in streams around the area. Each of these loggers comes with a serial number, but that's just another number. To keep track of the data loggers, I decided to name them. With 15 data loggers, that gives us 13 dwarfs, a wizard, and a hobbit.

And in a little bit of art-imitating-life, Kili ended up having a bad pressure sensor and was left behind...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Learning to find your own bugs

Last week my wife and I traveled to Rocky Mountain National Park. One of my favorite features of the rockies (besides the in-your-face geology) is a particular bird called the American Dipper, which is known for walking along stream bottoms searching for insects and its eponymous up-and-down bobbing.

The American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus)

Human Development

Wow, I can't believe the summer has progressed this far!  I'm also thrilled with the progress of the fantastic students I'm working with.  Courtney has taken on an enormous amount of responsibility and Peng is a field sampling and lab ANIMAL.  A late comer, Mary, is doing great work as the protocol potentate.  Outstanding!

I'm now in Washington, D.C. at the American Society for Microbiology.  I'm facilitating a workshop that helps faculty design and execute scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) studies.  Once they leave this workshop, these great faculty will return to their campuses across the nation and investigate the impacts of classroom practices on student learning and development.

It's funny, the mentoring approaches I use are the same for both undergraduates and faculty members.  Stay positive, provide room for making mistakes, encourage everyone to work to their full potential, match people's interests with projects, and keep everyone focused on the goal.

The LAKES REU faculty have high aspirations for our students.  You are all so capable and offer such promise for the future.  In every one of you I see the potential to not only have satisfying careers, but to make an impact on the world; to improve it and make it a better place.

Our project is a long-term effort, one that won't be solved this summer or perhaps for a long time.  We made an amazing start on this problem primarily due to your hard work and commitment.  Thank you for all your efforts!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On mentoring: Some sociological ruminations

I always dug Miyagi, of course.  Who didn't?  He created some sort of Zen-like coolness out of waxing the car.  But upon reflection, he kind of had it easy.  He had one person to mentor.  This is not the case for teachers (or other types of mentors out there).  I'm just saying. :)

Sometimes you meet a student who comes in and says, "I have the next three years figured out- I'm so excited!"  Sometimes you hear, "I have no idea what to do with my life; I just really like thinking deeply about stuff."  Then you have the student who is taking care of two kids, works two jobs, and has no time for schoolwork...but really wants a college degree and the ensuing job it (presumably) brings.  Your role as a mentor is to put each of their lives in your hands, as much as possible, and help them make their goals, however vague or improbable they may be, a reality.  No pressure, right? 

I'm loving every one of our LAKES students this summer.  They are all amazing people, but each in their own ways.  We had our first meeting with the LAKES students about six weeks ago.  When I gave my "let's change the world" speech I saw fuzzy warm excitement from some and skeptic eye-rolling from others.  [This was in an environment where every student was motivated to do research.]  I was reminded that even with outstanding students my "mentor" role would be many things, depending on the student and the moment: from cheerleader to facilitator to friend to teacher.  

We all mentor others at many times in our lives.  We want to make that time with them mean something.  We want to make our lives count, for theirs.  How can we do so much for so many different people??  Of course, how we do so is shaped by those who mentored us, and I think our effectiveness depends on the variety of people we globbed onto...  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Is it All a Dream?

After conducting six interviews with policy actors and spending weeks talking to local residents about Lake Menomin, I’m feeling more and more torn. Many people that I’ve spoken to have told me that the lake is unusually clear this season because of the increased rainfall and I know that I did not truly believe that the lake could become so green until I saw a growing patch of algae myself. I look at the lake on beautiful days like the one in this picture and I can’t help but feel a sense of wonder that something so beautiful can become so mucky.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Caution! Water Quality Advisory

As Kyle and I have traveled around the Red Cedar River watershed in the last four weeks one thing keeps resurfacing anytime you get near a lake, river, or even small streams such as Tiffany Creek in Boyceville: "CAUTION! WATER QUALITY ADVISORY". In all caps of course.

It seemed that no matter where we went we couldn't escape the wrath of the blue-green algae and streams with high sediment loads. Until today that is. We spent our day collecting water samples and discharge measurements in just the Wilson Creek watershed that empties directly into Lake Menomin. Following Wilson Creek and its many tributaries as close to their headwaters as we could collecting samples that will be analyzed for concentration of both soluble reactive phosphorus and total phosphorus along the way to determine primary sources in the watershed. And along the way we found some beautiful streams with perfectly clean water and other small streams chalked with sediment.

Time to run the samples and do the route again in a week or two and look for patterns throughout the Wilson Creek Watershed.

Blake Lea

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Food for Thought

Food makes me incredibly happy. There's a switch that turns off most of the functioning in my brain when I'm hungry, and then there's another switch that turns on the second I see a colorful meal of fruits and vegetables in front of me.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Belay is on

I grip the rope tightly with both hands. I look down, eyes moving over my hands and stopping briefly to consider the strange new calluses at the base of my fingers. I look back up and meet the eyes of the rock wall instructor. He stares back at me expectantly, waiting. I know what to do, I know I need to pull the rope down with my left hand and up to the right with my other hand at the same time, then lock the rope in place with a quick downward jerk, then rapidly move my left hand under my right so I can shift my right hand back into place. I’ve practiced the move a dozen times at least in the last ten minutes.

Time Passes By

The Time Passes By,
Snow on water, Trees on Sky. 
Forever the Same.

Red Cedar River, December 2013 and July 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Good Blogs Take Time (My excuse for posting late)

"Do you think you as a researcher, just starting out, can change the world?  In what ways?" Well, let me tell you...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Wins The Race

A picture captures

A turtle running away

Half of the story

Information Overload

One of the most amazing things about this particular research project is that this is the very first year a group has been sought out and tasked with gathering information on this particular watershed. Additionally, all of us are from different backgrounds and studying different things, but we all share an interest in using our knowledge to improve the environment. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Learning From Experience

Hello again, this is Peng Vang and through the first three weeks so far, the experiences of researching for this program have been tremendous. I have been learning new work from my partner and also my professor from doing this program. I was amazed by all the work that was given to me for this project. However, the adventure of collecting data from our water samples from Tainter and Lake Menomin, also the two rivers, Hay and Red Cedar. While analyzing the data, it was surprising to find the different amount that are within certain parts of the water. From all the learning within the Biology and Chemistry department, it was a learning process of refreshing my mind on previous work and new work that had to be learned. Overall, it is a new experience staying here and learning new equipment for scientific uses.

Lots of Facebook Likes

Like most individuals, I dream of changing the world. My mother loves to tell the story of when I was little and people would ask me what I wanted to do. I'd smile and say, "I want to make the world a better place." She would then prompt me further asking how and what I would do differently. Each time she'd say, "Well, the world is a big place and many people have tried to change it, what will make your effort different?" This really got me thinking. What was I going to do to change things? What about all the people that had "failed" before me? How was I going to have an impact?

One Step at a Time

"Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have."    ~Margaret Mead

When asked if I could change the world as a young researcher, my first instinct was to say, “No, maybe in a few years…after graduate school and more years of experience.” But my experiences with researching speak otherwise.  Research has always appealed to me because the discoveries never end. There is always another angle, geographic location, cultural influence, etc. can influence a completely different story. And to me, the sharing of those stories through the collection and analysis of data is just the first step toward change. I do research because I want to see it make a tangible transformation in the way we interact with our environment.

Making a Map

When I am asked if I think I can change the world with research and if research is still valuable, I automatically think back to my field work and research in New Zealand. We were assigned a field exercise that required us to map out land use around and vegetation within an estuary. All of us experienced a bit of frustration while doing this, especially the non-ecologists among us (*cough* me *cough*). Many of us became fed up with concentrating on the small details and started discarding them. We started relying on pre-existing data to make our maps instead of using the knowledge gained ourselves in the field. That's when our field leader said,

"How can you expect to make a map of the world if you're never in it?"

Friday, July 4, 2014

Is Research Important?

Do I think  research is important and valuable to us as a society?
The answer to that question is, OF COURSE. 
There will always be something new to find or something that can be improved and made better as well as more efficient. This goes for anything such as technology, the way we view the earth and environmental practices, as well as how we should interact with each other. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Just a boy throwing some starfish

This week, we were asked whether we, as just-starting-out researchers in an era of abundantly available information, could realistically expect to change the entire world.

As the question clearly suggests, the odds are not in our favor. Few people would look at an undergraduate student researcher in the era of the Internet and smartphones and expect me to have any significant impact on the larger world.

But I can’t help thinking of the starfish parable (cliché, I know, but stick with me). For those of you who aren’t familiar, here it is:

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"The more I learn, The more I realize how much I don't know." - Albert Einstein

The first question posed to us this week was "is individual research still necessary in the age of technology?" My answer to that question is YES! Especially from a geological and biological background. There is so much about this world that we still do not know enough about or know about at all and the only way we can begin to discover and learn more about these things is through research. This past weekend when I was going over the things that I have noticed, learned, and discovered I realized how much more complex the phosphorous problem was in the lake than I originally thought. This lead me to what seems to be the reoccurring theme in my career as a young scientist:   

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.”

― Albert Einstein 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

If I have seen further...

Time: 11:09pm.

Surfing the Internet, scrolling through images of things that are supposed to make your already simple life, well...simpler. They're called "life hacks"; carry all your grocery bags in one trip with a carabiner, velcro your remote to your table so you won't lose it, freeze coffee in ice trays to keep your iced coffee cold without watering it down, use Doritos as fire kindling, remove stems of strawberries by...*ding*

Monday, June 30, 2014

Knowledge is Power

I mentioned in my last post that I wasn't aware that the lake at this point would look so pretty and lacking in algal bloom. There are some spots that are starting to develop that famous green layer, but overall, the lake looks alright. 

An algal bloom that was only visible for a few days

Saturday, June 28, 2014

2 x 2 = 4 ...and other new discoveries

Another week has passed and I’ve learned a few things… 2x2 = 4… the sky is blue… grass is green… sometimes water is too… But I digress.

Happy Soil, Happy People

Week 2: What have you learned this summer so far? What don't you know at this point? What are you going to learn more about? How do you plan to learn more?

My favorite part about this program thus far is how it has allowed me to focus in on subject matters that I am passionate about as well as explore new topics that I am being introduced to. That's the beauty of interdisciplinary research.

16 going on 17...

One of my favorite stories to tell is how I've moved 16 times (see map below for places I've been). Most people when they hear this begin apologizing, as if I had just told them I lost a pet. It was the awkward balance between, “That sucks,” and “I have no idea what to say right now.” When I was younger, it was fun to tell people my story. I always felt moving was something that made me unique. But, at the time, I secretly loathed moving. I’d see a U-haul truck and cringe. It wasn't until I was much older and attending college that I started to look at those experiences as something positive. My childhood produced a curiosity within me. Travelling all the time allowed me to question and observe those around me. As I've grown up and began to appreciate the experiences I had as a child, I've realized the consistency of nature. This consistency and desire to improve what we have led me to the LAKES REU.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Getting Down to Business

Algae beginning to form on the surface of Lake Menomin

It was 9 am on Tuesday morning when everything finally clicked. My hands were cramping from my tight grip on my pen and my handwriting was illegible from my furious scribbling. Most of the LAKES group was in attendance at the Total Maximum Daily Limit (TMDL) Implementation Plan team meeting at the Dunn County Agricultural Services Center. We were sitting in chairs along the back walls of a small conference room watching the group of around 15 people from various state and local agencies, NGOs, and corporations providing updates on the work they’ve done toward planning the implementation of TMDLs.

First week Accomplish

Hi, my name is Peng Vang, a Hmong American student from Minnesota (MN). For me, coming from a bigger city than Menomonie felt a bit different, but its a work in progress. I was interested about this program as my F.R.E.E program coordinator lead me to it. Once I saw the program, I knew it was going to be a great program for myself. During my first week here at UW-Stout, I could not believe that I was actually here. The long drive, the wait of wanting to do something with my summer, and the strive to gain new experiences that will be useful in the future. I knew that I was leaving everything behind in the cities, but it was an experience to be learned and to adapt to the environment of a smaller town. Once I was outside my residential hall, I was amazed by the looks of it, in my head I thought "It looks better than how it looks like online." After the first few days of getting a tour of the campus, I was surprised by how spread out the campus was from building to building, that was my first impression of the campus. Meeting my fellow housemates was an opportunity to know one another and learn from each other. From meeting everyone here, I felt that it will be a great time getting to know one another and working together on the project.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


I walk into my room in Red Cedar Hall during my second week at Stout. I look up and see my lofted bed, raised to its highest setting. I need to lower this, I think. I’ve waited too long. I drop my bags, cross my arms, and look at the wood and iron structure raising the mattress and bedframe.

It’s high up, and not just because I’m short. Really high, high enough that I need to fully extend my arms to reach the bottom of the metal frame.  I test its weight. Heavy.

I step back again, re-cross my arms. This is going to be difficult. But I don’t need help. I do things like this alone.

I go under, lift, and begin to lower. Right away, I know the weight is too much. I try to shift my legs, but loosen my grip in the process, and the heavy frame crashes down onto my left shoulder. [insert expletive here] I yell. My housemate sticks his head in the door. Do you need help? he asks. No I quickly reply.

And We Climb...

We have been climbing ever since we arrived to Menomonie, and not only on UW-Stout's on-campus rock wall (although we don't mind that either).  Every day we spend here we learn a little bit more, both in our own discipline and from the disciplines of our peers.  Every step we take we are a little bit closer to accomplishing something greater than what we would be capable of alone...

Monday, June 23, 2014

Isn't this lake supposed to be green?

Being in Menomonie is a completely new experience for me in a lot of ways: this is the place where I will be experiencing my first professional gig as a biologist, where I get to work with new people from different places and academic disciplines, and I get to spend 8 WEEKS in a state I've never been to before. I have so much to learn...

--Insert creative week 1 title here... Or not, it's late.

Hello all!

This week, we are discussing how our first impression of the REU matches/clashes with our previous expectation. Here are my thoughts…

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Settling in

I've traveled from east to west and have visited many areas along the way, some big and some small. This visit has certainly been one of the most shocking and hopefully meaningful.

Getting started and settling in!

Hi! My name is Blake Lea and I traveled to Menomonie, WI on Sunday afternoon from my home town of Rushford, MN. Despite Menomonie being only a short 1 hour and 45 minute drive from my hometown I had admittedly never been here until last Sundays move in. The drive up was very familiar for the first half hour as that took me to Winona, MN, which is where I am currently attending Winona State University and studying Environmental Geoscience and Biology. From there I traveled up beautiful Highway 61 to Wabasha, MN. This is where I began to see some new stretches of highway, bluffs, fields, rivers, streams, and lakes that I had never seen before!

“Wisconsin? What’s out there, cheese?”

Week 1: "Does the civic and work environment meet your expectations? Why or why not?"

I discovered that I was a city person the first year I moved away from Philadelphia, PA to Providence, RI for college. Despite Providence, RI being the capitol and most populated city in Rhode Island, I was used to Philly’s bustling 1.5 million population. It's needless to say that I had no idea what to expect out of Menomonie, WI when I accepted a position with LAKES REU.

I realized during school that I had no idea what my environment would be like this summer. When my peers would ask me what I was doing over the summer I would excitedly tell them about the ethnographic research I would be doing on phosphorus mitigation policy. In response, I would frequently receive a prodding, “But where?” No one I spoke to had heard of Menomonie, WI and I would often be presented the question, "What's out there, cheese?" After the conversation, I would be left wondering, “How many people will be in the town? Is the population diverse? Will I be surrounded by corn and cows?” Although I looked up some demographic information about the town, I really wanted to experience Menomonie myself.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Finding Menomonie

Week 1: Does the civic and work environment meet your expectations? Why or why not?

I have always been enthusiastic about learning. I enjoyed going to school when I was young and even in recent years, I have admittedly acted a lot like this on the first day of classes:

Perhaps if you asked me mid-semester if I still felt the same way, I would call you crazy. However, each new semester has presented me with the opportunity to grow as both a student and an individual. I appreciate the excitement and freshness of new beginnings and endeavors. My journey to Menomonie, WI was just that - a new endeavor.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Where's all the cheese?

I can summarize what I expected to see when I entered Wisconsin for the first time in one short word: cheese. Despite having family that has lived in Wisconsin for my whole life, cheese was all that I knew about this midwestern state. I expected cheese sales on the side of the road, free cheese samples are the grocery store, cheese head hats like the ones I see on TV—cheese and cheese everywhere.

Blue-Green what?

Week 1: Does the civic and work environment meet your expectations? Why or why not? 

The biggest shock upon arrival was how beautiful the lake appeared.  I saw none of the Blue-Green Algae that was apparently the talk of the town, instead I saw a beautiful lake surrounded by trees and green space. I was then told that it is only a matter of time until the lake becomes one of the most unpleasant aspects of the town.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Welcome to Lake Menomin: Home of Blue-Green Algae

As our first blog assignment, the 10 LAKES REU students were asked to share our getting started and settling in experiences. Specifically, we were asked to answer the question, "Does the civic and work environment meet your expectations?"

To answer this question blatantly, no.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


This space intentionally left blank.

What is "tilling?"

Week 1 Blog Topic

Each week we will be asking our students to write to a specific topic. The topic for Week 1 is "Getting started and settling in."

We've invited 10 students from across the US: big cities and small towns - Menomonie, Wisconsin is similar to other places, but very different than others. What did they expect? Was the actual place different than what they thought? We'll be asking the students to share their thoughts using this guiding question:

"Does the civic and work environment meet your expectations? Why or why not?"

Monday, June 16, 2014

Let the games begin!

The REU students have arrived and we enjoyed an epic game of Kubb along with a getting-to-know-you BBQ. Monday we hand out laptops, get paperwork finalized, and an orientation to the town and research.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Welcome to the Blog Home of the LAKES REU

Hello world!
This is the official blog-home of the LAKES REU project. This research experience for undergraduates (REU) program will be studying issues related to phosphorus pollution in the Red Cedar watershed of west-central Wisconsin. Over the summer, you will be able to read about student experiences, some background information about the study area, and get to learn about some of the general challenges that face many lakes in Wisconsin and around the world.