Sunday, June 22, 2014

“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.

My dad was extremely supportive of my decision to spend the summer working in Menomonie, telling me “You’re going to love it out there. It’s nice to leave the city every once in a while.” 

He was right.

Menomonie, WI is so nice in every sense of the word. UW Stout is nice, the people are nice, and the environment is nice. I already feel so pleased and calm and it’s only been a week. I cannot get over how wonderful it is to walk down the street and receive a greeting from another passing pedestrian. Or how easy it is to strike up a conversation with another person in a store, library, or event. While walking down the street, I no longer have to speed-walk or maneuver around groups of people like I would in Philadelphia. The streets are clear of litter and there is an abundance of trees and fresh air. Even the lake, which experiences seasonal algal blooms likely caused by phosphorus runoff, is beautiful. I know that by the end of the summer, the lake will be covered by mossy blue-green algae, and this further drives me to want to find a solution to the problem.

Our work environment is warm and flexible. I know that this summer will be challenging, and I’m already being nudged out of my comfort zone by interviewing residents for our Mini Projects. I feel incredibly supported by my mentors and peers and I’m excited to work hard on my research. 

One of my favorite group activities thus far was our bike tour of Menomonie and our exploration of the Devil’s Punchbowl. After climbing out of the expansive rock-walled Punchbowl, carved into a wall at its entrance were the words “This journey hath changed us.” I came to Menomonie, WI to make a difference and contribute to UW Stout’s research on Lake Menomin. I wasn’t expecting to experience such a huge change in my confidence and attitude. Even though I am still a self-proclaimed city-person, Menomonie, WI has already stolen my heart.

"This journey hath changed us"

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