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.