Thursday, August 13, 2015

Best Management Practices: Farmers and their Social Networks

Best Management Practices are farming practices that help increase soil health, decrease soil erosion and stop excessive amounts of farm runoff. Less phosphorous and solids enter the streams, rivers, and lakes, thus lowering the amounts of blue green algae blooms that are causing the toxicity, cloudiness, and smell of the lake. There are many predictors that have a significant input on increasing or decreasing BMP implementation but, for the sake of this summer’s project, I looked into social network analysis to find interesting predictors for higher uses of BMPs. The statistics that we ran were closeness centrality and some basic descriptive statistics about networks.  The results stated that farmers with a higher closeness centrality would have a higher usage of BMPs, also that farmers within the network with four or more connections had a significantly higher amount of BMP Index than those without any connections. My research suggests that to increase BMP Index farmers need to become part of a social network, most effectively through Farmer-Led Councils, which would help deal with other problems that hinder the adoption of BMPs.

We Have What it Lakes to Make a Difference

            Cyanobacterial blooms of blue-green algae plague the lakes near Menomonie each summer. I was awarded the opportunity to come to Wisconsin to participate in research to combat this problem.
My research project primarily looked at the impact of the Red Cedar and Hay Rivers on Tainter Lake and the development of cyanobacterial blooms. I found that as river flow increases there is also an increase in total phosphorus to the lake as well as soluble reactive phosphorus, the type that is most readily available for cyanobacteria to use to grow.  While all phosphorus causes blooms, soluble reactive phosphorus should be a target for remediation strategies.

Two Lakes Worth Cleaning? How cleaner Lakes Menomin and Tainter would benefit the community

Two Lakes Worth Cleaning?
How cleaner Lakes Menomin and Tainter would benefit the community

For a town built around a lake, I was surprised at the lack of people on the water when I saw Lake Menomin for the first time. Two boats, one person fishing, and no one swimming. It wasn’t until I heard more about the toxicity, smell, and blue-green algae that I got a sense of how people view it in the summer.

In one of the first conversations I had, I learned that the lake turns green and gives off a bad stench. Little did I know that that would be the theme of several more conversations, and discriminated little between the different groups of people I talked with. The green water and smell drive many people away from what should be a beautiful asset to the city if there were cleaner, clearer lakes.

Several of the business owners I spoke with expressed that the smell gets so bad they keep their windows and doors shut, and people don’t go downtown as frequently.

It’s apparent the lake is influential on the community. My research focused on the impact that cleaner Lakes Menomin and Tainter would have on the local economy.

I surveyed Menomonie citizens, businesses, UW-Stout staff, and students to gain a better understanding of how these groups would be impacted if Lakes Menomin and Tainter were cleaner and usable during the summer.

Results showed that the lakes are currently being used below their potential.  If the lakes were cleaner, 50% of those surveyed said they would fish more, 60% would boat more, and 72% said they would swim more. Approximately 40% said they would visit downtown more frequently.

It is clear that lake recreation would flourish and with more visitors downtown, local businesses could expect to grow.

Be a Good Neighbor, Put in a Buffer Strip: Why putting in a buffer strip is worth your time even if no one is checking

Be a Good Neighbor, Put in a Buffer Strip
Why putting in a buffer strip is worth your time even if no one is checking

            For the past two months I have been researching shoreline regulations which require homeowners and farm owners to put in buffer strips along the lake and rivers.  These buffer strips act as a barrier which can help trap sediment and phosphorous runoff before it reaches the water.  While regulations at the state and, until recently, the county level have been in place for years, they have not been strictly enforced and only an estimated 35% of the homes on Tainter Lake are in compliance. 
The key thing I investigated this summer is what motivates these people to cooperate with shoreline regulations.  I have found that people who know about the ordinances are more likely to have a buffer strip, but those who express concern about water quality are exponentially more likely to have a buffer strip.  To address this officials could more actively enforce the law, which would undoubtedly make the regulations a more important factor in people’s decisions to put in a buffer strip, but my research suggests that this may not be the most efficient use of limited resources.  Rather, I suggest that more resources be created to help people understand the impact that buffer strips can have on water quality and to help homeowners understand what the ordinance requires of them. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Summer's Worth of Research, and More Work To Do

Phosphorus (P) is a labile naturally occurring element. It is one of a few essential elements required for the health and growth of many plants and animals; both terrestrial and aquatic. P comes in many forms, and is generally measured in the form of Total Phosphorus (TP) which includes all forms that P in in a given space. TP is broken down into multiple forms including Soluble Reactive Phosphorus (SRP), Particulate Phosphorus (PP), Inorganic Phosphorus, and Organic Phosphorus. The Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies typically measure P concentration of a space through TP in pounds of loading or in concentration of milligrams per liter. 
The concentration of P will shift naturally based on a variety of factors. This can include precipitation patterns, agricultural land use practices, and the exposed bedrock of an area. One of the most influential factors is the agricultural land use. Many farms utilize fertilizer to grow healthy and profitable crops. This fertilizer provides extra nutrients to stimulate plant growth including P. Terrestrial plants on average need higher concentrations of P than aquatic plants. This is important in considering another important factor: precipitation patterns. The rainfall patterns over an agricultural area will result in run off to local tributaries within the watershed and the run off from fertilizer will wind up in those streams and creeks carrying high concentrations of P.  Ultimately, within the Red Cedar Watershed, these P concentrations will wind up in the impoundment of Lake Menomin.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

We are the solution: phosphorous

Phosphorus is one of the key elements necessary for the growth of plants and animals and in lake ecosystems it tends to be the growth-limiting nutrient. In plants, phosphorus is essential for photosynthesis, respiration, seed production, root growth and other critical functions. Phosphorus in animals is critical for proper bone and muscle growth, metabolism, reproduction, and overall animal performance.  Phosphorus (P) largely limits phytoplankton growth in freshwater systems. Excessive P loading into lakes and reservoirs can lead to cyanobacteria blooms and potential toxicity.  
Reservoirs are impoundments of large rivers that drain extensive watersheds, advective flow, flushing rate, and residence time can also regulate phytoplankton dynamics.  For instance, during storm runoff and elevated flow, residence time can decrease to less than a week, while flushing rate increases. Even though soluble P loading can be high and available for phytoplankton uptake during these periods, rapid flushing that exceeds the algal growth rate can lead to anomalously low chlorophyll in the reservoir due to washout of the algal community. During lower flow, residence time increases, while flushing rate decreases. Anticedent P loads assimilated by phytoplankton during these periods can result in bloom development and chlorophyll increases because the phytoplankton doubling time now exceed flushing rate.  

Friday, August 7, 2015

Phosphorous and its Missing Slice of Pie

The distribution of phosphorous pollution has been usually represented in a pie chart where it has had no place for the natural occurring phosphorous, hence the reason phosphorous is missing a slice of pie. 

It turns out that the water in the creeks are mostly made up of pre-event water, otherwise known as the water that comes from the ground, and soil. This is unlike the new water that enters the stream during a storm because of runoff and direct precipitation onto the body of water. So who cares? Why does it even matter if the creek has water from the ground or if it is from the rain? Well it turns out that this information is very important in the manner that it brings us a new piece of pie that has come from a pie that we believed was already whole.

Fair Enough

How fair is fair? Is fair being able to only order McNuggets from 11 am to 4 am? Why can’t I have chicken nuggets at 9 in the morning?  Maybe, its because those are the policies and regulations that are in place for distributing food. I could call customer service and ask them why I am limited to these certain hours. However, is calling customer service a fair process for voicing my opinion? Must I revaluate my situation? Are the policies and regulations fair? Similar to this situation is the situation that farmer’s find themselves in, but they are not just dealing with chicken nuggets.

My research focused on adoption of Best Management Practices (BMPs) within farmer social networks. These BMPs are practices that are proven to help reduce run-off and help improve water quality.  Examples of BMPs are putting in grass waterways, using no till, and developing nutrient management plans. For my research I was also interested in perception of fairness within the farming community and how that played a role in adopting Best Management Practices.

This Land Was Made For You and Me: On Property Rights Discourse and Lake Clean-Up Efforts

Myself with Dan Prestebak, favorite conservationist for the second year in a row:)
When I was deciding the title of my research project, the indoctrinated song "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Gutherie immediately came to mind. I remember singing the feel-good lyrics in elementary school, mindlessly and aimlessly without actually taking the words into account. Perhaps that was when I truly became American, when I was unknowingly singing about my right to land and land privatization. Truly, I wonder what elementary-age Eniola would have to say to current day Eniola if she found out that song would someday become part of the thesis of her now summer research project.

Monday, August 3, 2015

One Recipe for an Amazing Summer Research Experience

Our creative and amazing students gave us a blog post assignment this time around, and I have to say that I’ve found it daunting. Sorry, y’all, but I’m tweaking it a bit. The acrostic poems became haikus about my advisees, and I’m sorry to report that I just couldn’t find any embarrassing pictures. I know everyone is disappointed.

When I think about first impressions of my two students, Eniola and Melanie, I have to go back to their applications. Both of them immediately stood out to me as students I wanted to work with. They had thoughtful explanations of their interests in environmental anthropology, clear enthusiasm for working on the REU and with their fellow students, an amazing background in anthropology including fieldwork experience, and impressive letters of recommendation. I was definitely excited about prospect of working with them, anxiously awaited their acceptance, and looked forward to meeting them.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

How to Deal with Being Overwhelmed: Why LAKES REU Students are so Awesome

I get overwhelmed with so many important priorities in my life.  Most of you know how I feel.  I Co-Direct the LAKES program, which is a tremendous privilege I take seriously.  I have other priorities in life, like my family, teaching, exercise, involvement in civil society, friends, etc., etc., etc.  We really don't set ourselves up to deal with these things well in modern society, in spite of our efforts to improve "efficiency".  I will continue to criticize the modern political economy and the culture behind it for various, important reasons, but we all still have to deal with it on a daily basis nonetheless.  So how do you deal with being overwhelmed?  I argue that you surround yourself with awesome people (as I have discussed here and here and here before).  This summer I am proud to have many such students and colleagues I can lean on in the LAKES REU.  This blog post is a reflection on two of those students, Yanira Campos and Josh Herron (read on- I suspect you will fall in love with them, too).

Friday, July 24, 2015

Updates on 2014 LAKES REU Alumni

We have received many inquiries about how all of last year's students are doing now.  They set the stage for all the amazing research we are doing this summer, and we are very grateful.  I asked them to send along updates that I could put on our blog.  They are all quite busy, but those who were able to send an update (in the quick week turnaround I gave them) are offered here.  We are so proud of all of them!!  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Different Methods, One Goal

Our goal here at the LAKES project is to make a dramatic change to the watershed over a long period of time, because there is no cure all for cleaning our lakes and rivers. Interdisciplinary research allows for us to understand all parts of the project and more overtly the problem. My different experiences in the program so far have left me with an understanding of all the different aspects of the lakes, rivers, political climate, volunteer willingness, and participation of local organizations. These experiences can be summed up to different methods to one greater goal.

The first interdisciplinary experience that I had in the program was doing transcriptions for the Anthropologists. I thought it was exciting, which is really weird, because I was sitting in front of a computer with a fancy stop and go foot pedal that allowed me to hear the interview at my pace. Needless to say, I spent the first twenty minutes just typing and didn't know what I was typing. So I went back and listened. The conversation was so intriguing and central to my own research that I took some side notes as to why there were  different experiences between farmers and county workers. Some of these statements have been central to my research on farmers and the establishment of farmer led councils.

How to Become a Well Rounded Person

Either in the work place, at school, or just in the real world it is very important to be a well rounded individual. You don't want to be all book smarts with no real life experiences, or vice versa. The reason being is that you can gain valuable information from books, just as you can from experiencing events in the world. The real world also teaches you how to socialize and build friendships, which can end up being used in the future for more information or just a way to just get away from the world.

I personally have tried to be well rounded by being the best student I can be, but also by having my hands in everything from Greek related events to making connections with the staff at my school, and now here at UW-Stout. Last week I was lucky enough to go out with the sociology group, in particular with Josh since we were able to split the groups because of my car. It was a nice experience to get back into the field, but this time not in the creeks or trapped in a cold lab. I enjoyed talking to the a fair amount of farmers, with one even letting us crank start his Model-T!! I learned a good bit from what the farmers had to say about their land, instead of learning about BMP (Best Management Practices) at my school. This knowledge is useful towards my project because we are looking at the phosphorous in creeks and its nice to hear from part of the source of phosphorous that I am studying this summer. Another thing I learned was that the Sociologists usually don't get the luck we did with catching farmers at the exact time before they went to another field or took a break. Normally from what I was told is that they just get turned down, which makes it hard to get data; something us Natural Science kids don't deal with because our biggest problem is weather. The other interdisciplinary activities I have gained is stuffing letters for surveys, which I have done with economists and Sociologists. It is long and hard work but its one of the ways that they can get data, and since they are shipping suitcases full of letters then I will be happy to help. Plus I have realized I am a letter packing machine!

From letter packing and interviewing to a cold lab and some creeks, this REU program has given me and will keep given me an experience that will allow me to keep rounding myself out and becoming a better and more educated person. I advise that everyone takes some part in an interdisciplinary life style at least once in their life.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Distant Cousins and Opposite Friends


I've come to realize Sociology and Anthropology are more of distant but close cousins. In talking to some sociology majors in my department, they were the first ones to explain this relationship, as distant cousins, between the two disciplines to me. Of course I wasn't pleased with their answer. I thought they were putting anthropology down for whatever reason and didn't want to be associated with it. But the more sociology classes I took, the more I saw the vast difference. In shadowing Yani and Josh, I think I've truly been able to come to terms with that difference. Even in fields that some might consider very similar, each still bring a different and unique perspective to the table.

Strength in Numbers

Some of us canvasing at Freedom Fest, Wakanda Park.

It has been a great experience learning what everyone in the LAKES REU program is doing this summer. Over the past two weeks I got the chance to work with Josh and Yanira, the sociologists, and Megan and Lisette, the economists. I also spend Friday mornings with the geochemists at journal club where we discuss primary literature that will help us to better understand the problem at hand by looking at studies done on situations similar to ours. With both the economists and the sociologists we got together and ate pizza and stuffed envelopes with surveys to send to farmers and other members of the community within the Red Cedar watershed. With Lisette and Megan we also attended Freedom Fest at Wakanda Park to canvas. It was a great opportunity to interact with community members and it is something I have never had the chance to do before. Yanira, Josh, Lisette and Megan also came out on the boat with Lanna and I and helped us with water sampling. The two methods of data collection for our projects could not be more different but we are all working toward the same goal, to clean the lake. Lanna and I, as biologists, are working to obtain data that can make a statement about the lake’s health, how it changes over the summer months, how cyanobacteria blooms develop and how all of this is influenced by the changing concentration of phosphorous. Though without the work of the social scientists the research would end with the natural scientists and we would be stuck. We need to know exactly who to give the information that we find to, how to best present it and ultimately propose a solution that is best for the entire community. It is crucial that we continue to work together because that is how real change will happen. Seeing how our projects come together to meet our goal had been a really meaningful part of this interdisciplinary experience.

Week 5: Interconnected and Informed

Over the course of the summer the 10 REU students have the opportunity to explore not only their own research topics, but also each of the the other 4 topics. I have had the privilege of working with the sociologists and the anthropologists so far and each has been a great experience. Getting the opportunity to see how a social scientist conducts their research, as someone in the natural sciences, has been an enlightening and enjoyable experience. For the anthropology group, I assisted in some of the transcribing process. This consisted of receiving an audio file of an interview and transcribing it verbatim to a word document. Our anthropologists have made clear that this is the most mundane and trivial of the work that they do, but for me it was right up my alley. Though it may have been repetitive for those who conducted the interview and already heard it, I had the ability to sit in on important discussions that were happening regarding the topics of land practices and water quality. Additionally, due to the precision needed for accurate transcriptions, I got to hear the conversation thoroughly enough to understand it deeply. If I was confused, I could just re-wind the recording and hear the exact phrasing or inflection a second or third time. Hearing the social side and policy work mentioned in this interview strengthened what I am learning about, because whatever our findings are will directly impact the potential phosphorus indices for local citizens or other land maintenance ordinances.
Though this transcribing task may have been simple, its implications are not. The complexity of environmental issues are almost impossible to view from a single perspective. Luckily, multiple and interconnected perspectives only helps to strengthen it as an issue because it offers stronger, more pervasive, and hopefully preventative solutions with so many minds tackling the issue in so many ways. Today, we had the opportunity to meet with the Young African Fellows, a group of 25 young leaders from a variety of African countries. These individuals in my discussion group kept emphasizing the strength of our research, the science behind it, the nature of people, and the global pervasiveness of environmental issues. Ultimately, with interdisciplinary work, as most of these individuals were businesspeople and entrepreneurs, we were able to connect, receive feedback and suggestions, and encouragement in how to move forward. They provided multiple contacts and references to move forward and get our findings out there to hopefully influence others in a variety of fields. Regardless of what the problem or work is, having the interdisciplinary perspective that this experience has provided is important and something to be valued in any field.

Week 5: Better Together

Working with the other disciplines has allowed me to see an important theme: we are better together. The scientific data is important in better understanding the problem and best solutions, but considering the social side of the problem is equally important. If people aren’t willing to make changes, then the science only leads to more knowledge. In reverse, if people are willing to make a change or use a solution, without scientific research, their efforts will go to waste, as they try to fix something they don’t understand. Thus, both the science and social sides of things are essential. They go hand-in-hand.

I recently had the chance to join the biologists to see how they collect data. I had a great time being out on the lake that we talk so much about, and they even let me drive the boat!

Working with a large group of students on a research project from multiple disciplines has helped me develop my leadership, communication, and critical thinking abilities. I have learned that leadership qualities exist in everyone of us. Whether you are the director of a project or an assistant in the field,  being leaders in research is being supportive and building each other up to empower yours and your peers' strengths in research. Communication is also vital in an interdisciplinary research approach. Including everyone's ideas and perspectives during the research processes is important to creating a well formed, inclusive, and impactful research project. Whether communication entails reaching out to your peers for help, or conveying difficult thought processes, communication is imperative to sustaining cohesive and lasting research results. 

Shameless Self-Promotion and Interdisciplinarity

Speaking with as little bias as possible, I think this program is really cool.  Honestly, much cooler than I was expecting.  I knew vaguely coming here that we would be studying phosphorous pollution in the lake and that there would be several teams of students of different disciplines.  I did not expect us to work so closely with the community or with each other though.

They let me drive! (yikes)
Last week the biologists were kind enough to let me and Megan follow them around and take up seats in their boat.  They taught us economists how to take water tests and explained to us why they were measuring certain variables.  All summer they have been carefully collecting data on two forms of phosphorus, ammonium and nitrate (forms of nitrogen), turbidity, and cholorphyll.  I learned that they use chlorophyll measurements as a way to monitor algae growth, and that they look at nitrogen as well as phosphorous to gain a better understanding of whether nitrogen runoff is also a contributing factor to the problem.

While I had a great time cruising around with the biologists (especially when Steve let me drive), I did not appreciate how important understanding their portion of the project was until I was canvassing that weekend.  Last Saturday Megan and I set up a table at the farmer's market to try to lure people over and get them to take our survey.  In the process of doing this we answered a lot of questions that were completely unrelated to economics.  The ultimate question that everyone is asking of course is, what is the solution?  It was important that we be able to explain what the biologists were doing and how this was leading to a better understanding of the problem which would ultimately lead to a solution.  We then had to explain the same thing about our own and the other groups' projects.  Having gone out on the water earlier that week with the biologists and participating a little in their project made me much more confident doing this.  What's cool about this project and working in this community is that it forces you to do this-- it forces you to think about the interdisciplinarity of this problem and to convey the importance of this to other people.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Scratch My Back and I'll Scratch Yours

Throughout the summer we have been participating and learning about each others project. For the anthropology, I not only learned how difficult it was to transcribe, but I also gained insight on implementing and regulating policy through transcribing. Transcribing allowed me to get a better sense from agency officials and their opinions by examining their tone of voice and length of statements. For economics, I was able to go out into the community gain qualitative data while handing out surveys. I distributed surveys on two occasions,  to local businesses and to community members. Qualitative data is important because it can give insight on why a respondent choose an answer, which can otherwise not interpreted without contact. I enjoyed handing out surveys because it gave me a better understanding on how passionate Menomonie is about cleaning up the lake. Last but not least, I also went out with biology team. It was one of my favorite experiences. I was nice going out on the boat to collect water samples and to get a break from being in the office. I learned how to measure the turbidity and amount of chlorophyll of water. Also, thanks to Steve I learned how to drive a boat! It was such a great experience. Each one of these projects are important to improving not only the water quality, but the quality of life surrounding the community. Working on other projects has given me the opportunity to see how this water quality problem cannot only be solved through one type of research, but through the collaboration of different studies and research. 

Looking from a different perpective!

While participating in the LAKES REU, I've developed a better method of creative thinking. Working on the Biology aspect of the project, sometimes you have to use different methods to come to a certain conclusion. For example, Bill and I were discussing my vision for my poster and what story did I want to portray to the viewers. There was no one answer, so I was able to think creatively and together we were able to come up with a vision that showed the importance of the project. Working in a interdisciplinary research project, we are able to mix together people from different fields of study in a way in which we could all generate breakthrough results. Today, I had the opportunity to shadow the economic portion of our research. It was refreshing to see the economic perspective of the project because its completely different from the Biology standpoint. During my time with Lisette, Megan and Chris, I was able to understand how they developed their question based on their targeted audience. I was also able to learn a little economic theory from Chris and how they used certain equations to log in their data. I also learned from listening to the economic group that it involves a lot of critical thinking. For instance, we were discussing which factors to use in order to determine people's willingness to volunteer. It was fun to pinpoint your ideas and use it to come up with the best strategy. I really enjoyed shadowing another's group project and viewing the research project from a different standpoint. Although our fields of study are completely different, you can see how they work hand- in- hand to generate the ultimate outcome.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Are Environmental Issues Freedom Issues?

Two hundred and thirty-nine years later after our independence from Great Britain, the United States remains an independent nation and a global symbol of freedom. Today the discussion of freedom resonates through different citizens who question its definition and application. As a student, a woman, a young adult and a citizen with close family members in another country, defining and understanding freedom is something I often grapple with.

On Environmental Justice And Why Environmentalism Is Not Elitism

Relevant spoken word by a woman from the Marshall Islands, UN Climate Summit 2014

       In many ways this blog is an expansion on my post from last week on how I came to care about environmentalism and in many ways it’s a rant.  When I was applying to colleges I wrote many essays like this post, but the one that I remember most was in response to the very broad prompt, “What matters to you most and why?”  My 17 year old self was appalled.  How was I supposed to answer a question like that?  Narrow in on the single thing you care about most and say why?  I had no idea where to begin.  In the end, I wrote an essay about people.  I wrote that I liked talking to people, that I liked learning about people, and that ultimately I wanted to do something to help people.  While this is all still true, the way I think about these things and the way I envision my future has changed so much.
I quote my 17 year old self, “Environmental issues concern me, but they are not what I feel most passionately about and I cannot envision myself devoting my life to them.”  The irony in this is pretty obvious as I now plan to do just that.  I never would have pictured myself studying the things I have been or pursuing a career centered around environmental issues (and especially not as an economist), but my understanding of environmentalism has deeply changed over the past few years. 
I used to think of environmentalism as a scientific issue rather than a social issue.  I thought it was all about diverting wasting, finding alternative fuels, and reducing emissions.  In some ways it is, but environmental issues are also deeply social.  Environmentalism is as much about race and class as it is about measuring biodiversity.  Too often we forget this.  We think of environmental activism as driving hybrid cars, eating organic, and purchasing Patagonia fleeces.  While all these are good things, this is a very narrow definition of environmentalism which is problematic in that it excludes a large portion of the population who can’t afford to do these things.  So often I have heard that environmentalism is an elitist movement, that it is a cause for the wealthy.  This is not only false, but it obscures the fact that low-income people are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and changing climates.  A factory is never permitted to pollute the air of a wealthy neighborhood, we pay poorer countries to take on our electronic waste, and increasingly severe droughts in the Middle East hurt the farmers not the wealthy politicians.  What is most unjust is that these are not the people who actually produce the largest portion of the pollution.  This is why we must take action to address climate change and adopt more sustainable practices, because when we hurt the Earth we also hurt someone else who relies on this planet, and when we cause irreparable damage we harm future generations.  This is why I plan to study environmental issues, so that I may pursue a career which promotes environmental justice, and hopefully this will ultimately allow me to do something that helps people just as I always planned. 

The American Dream

America, the melting pot, the land of opportunity, the land of the free and the home of brave.  Twenty two years ago my parents immigrated to this great country. They wanted to provide my siblings and me with opportunities that were not available in their native country. There are many people out there that are critical about our government. While that may not always be a good thing, that is the beauty about in this country. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and they are free to speak their mind. While, there are many areas in which our government could improve upon,  I think we forget how lucky we are to live in such a great country. Independence day for many is reminder of how lucky we are to live in nation where we are granted many liberties.

However, as a minority in the United States I can never forget how fortunate I am to live in such wonderful country. I see the struggle my parents face everyday as immigrants in the United States. They come from a foreign land where the language, the culture, and the values are different. They work jobs where the pay never amounts to the effort put into those jobs. I have never heard my parents complain about working in the conditions that they do. In contrast, I hear my parents express how grateful they are to have a job and the opportunities they have been granted by this wonderful country.

I do not come from a wealthy family, but I do come from a humble family that values hard work and effort.  I owe everything I have achieved to my parents and this great country. It is crucial to me that I make my parents effort worth the while by carrying out my education. I struggled to find my identity as an American for a long time, facing racial barriers and economic challenges. However, I was able to push myself forward, attend college, and I am now currently participating in the REU Lakes program.

The REU Lakes Program hopes to clean up the waterways in order to create a safer and cleaner environment for all those living in the surrounding areas. My participation in this research contributes to furthering equality in the United States. It is important for me to be an example and to show other minorities that there are opportunities out there for them. This program has granted me the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge.

Finally, I have found my identity as an American. American is not a cookie cutter shape. America is mix of colors, cultures, and values. I am proud to be a part of two great cultures. Now, I sit alongside my parents that come from another country, but proudly wear red, white, and blue every 4th of July. This is the American Dream my parents came in search of twenty two years ago.

"This 4th of July is Your's, not Mine..."

Week 4: Environmentalism For Everyone

This past week, we, as a nation, celebrated the 4th of July. A holiday of freedom and liberation. The advent of this day in 1776 led to further successes and conquests for the young nation. Expansion, growth, trade- the United States would continue on the path towards global and political hegemony. Though the U.S. is a 'super-power' today, within the U.S., citizens are not regarded as super-heroes. Throughout the U.S., portions and pockets of this country's citizens feel the poignant externalities of our countries' elitism. Global economic and political success comes at a cost that is felt by individuals both within the country and by citizens for outside of the U.S. that feel the impact of these harms. They are felt due to the exporting or outsourcing of externalities to places that will accept the reward (financial compensation) over the risk.
Within the U.S., though we feel the impact environmentally of our agricultural, business, and political endeavors, they are not felt equally. Certain groups of people are impacted far differently than others. Unfortunately, the negative impacts are often distributed among groups of lower socioeconomic status, people of color, and generally geographic regions that contain both of these groups. It would seem that systematically, when it comes to environmental degradation and the health harms that come with it, these two groups are disadvantaged. There are many groups in the U.S. that are insulated from environmental and global climate change. They are insulated through their financial ability and stability. If the gas prices change, they can afford it. If it gets too hot where they live, they can move north. And most importantly, if a proposed dump, nuclear power facility, logging or mining endeavor gets too close for comfort they have a voice that will actually be heard. Not all people have this privilege. In fact, many times the people most acutely feeling the degradation of global climate change (spurred by anthropogenic lifestyles) are the people contributing least to it.
I will share an example that I got to experience first hand in Yasuni National Forest, in the Amazon of Ecuador. I had the ability to spend a few days in a beautiful rain forest in Ecuador this past January. We were in a national reserve and stayed at a research site of one of the local institutions. This site is about a 10 hour drive on a bumpy gravel road from the nearest "town."Though, there are plenty of the Waorani people living in the area, a larger felt presence is the Suzuki oil reserve. Sharing a boarder with the national forest, the reserve is pumping raw petroleum and natural gas and some of it directly into the atmosphere and Tiputini River. The river that the local people use for recreation and sustenance. Unfortunately, do to the language barrier, and the disadvantaged position these people are in, they are not being heard within the country's political sphere. Rather, they are being bought off. They have been bought off with tools and toys they don't use and aren't beneficial to their local situation. They have purchased cars and boats that they didn't teach them how to operate, and unfortunately were crashed or broken almost immediately. However, there is a large indigenous rights movement that has a presence in Ecuador and hopefully is only growing in strength.
Pipes carrying natural gas
Tour guide demonstrating the raw petroleum at the surface of the waste pond
Waste pond
Burning off natural gas
This experience from Ecuador was rather depressing, but I want to be clear that this environmental racism and the injustice that happens "abroad" is not as far away as I would like to think it is, and cannot and should not be distanced from the U.S. As a hegemonic power, the U.S. has power, privilege, and influence among many other nation states. We as citizens have some of that power and privilege, too. When it comes to purchasing (oil or other products) we have the ability to vote with our dollar. Every time something is purchased from a factory farm, an agro-business, or a company with exploitive practices, economically, they see that purchase as continued demand for their products and the means that produce them. The U.S. dollar holds a lot of power. I don't pretend to not struggle with this fact. I am a college student spending time researching at an institution an hour from my home town and will spend part of the summer making that commute. I will buy groceries at the local Wal-Mart for the same reasons as ever: convenience. Cheap and easy products that are available 24 hours of the day. Systematically, some groups of people are disadvantaged. This is clear in multiple facets of the United States, but individually, we all have agency in our day to day lives. The first step is awareness, and the second conscientious choice.
Some helpful sources on the concept of environmental racism and the unequal and inequitable distribution of resources' costs and benefits will be attached.

Here is an article chronicling U.S. environmental racism regarding nuclear waste and it's costs and benefits.

Here is another example in California.

And a final article.

We can’t all be Washingtons, but we can all be Patriots.

I read the topic for this blog posting last week, and have been thinking about it a lot. Just being able to put into words my ideas of what freedom, justice, and equality are consumed a lot of my spare time because they are abstract ideas, yet everyone has some concept of what those things either look like or should look like. We have personal views and ideas of what these things are, regardless if you consciously know it or not. In some ways, it’s easier to point out what’s not just or what’s unfair. So before I apply how these three things impact my views on research, I should first have a better definition of what they are.

Be the Change You Wish to See in Menomonie

          All people have the right to live in an environment that has a healthy ecosystem and does not put them at risk for harm. Right now Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin are not in a state of health and the people of Menomonie suffer as a result. Dogs have died or gotten ill from drinking the lake water, children cannot enjoy hot summer days swimming and the smell drives boaters out of the county looking for cleaner lakes. These people are not able to use the environment around them in ways that they want to and this is not fair. 

          I like to think that my research will help the people of Menomonie find solutions to the cyanobacteria problem that plagues the water in late summer. The data that I collect will be used in policy creation. It is this thought that keeps me focused when in the field and lab. However, to make great change in the watersheds water quality the people within the watershed will have to be motivated to help. Getting people from all parts of the watershed to understand that their way of life affects the way of life of those all around the watershed is a challenging part of this project. When people realize the power that they hold and use it to change their practices to help others live a better life, that is when the greatest change to water quality will occur. Without this realization, adoption of new policy, and continued research there will not be an improvement in water quality and the people of Menomonie will face injustice.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Freedom is the Result of Effort

Our Nation has been through many counts when giving up was probably the easy path, but that just our style. The United States has been faced with many problems a few being the birth of our Nation, two World Wars, and the great depression. We are very resilient, but freedom isn't just the right to say we are Americans, but the fact that we can call this piece of land our Home. Now I don't know about you all but I know I like to keep my home kept up and enjoyable. The problem is that our Nation has several problems, some including water quality or just the quantity of water.

In this neck of the woods we have the water quality issue that everyone here knows about. I mean from what it sounds like later this summer you wouldn't even want to have a picnic next to this Lake. That's not freedom. How can you be completely free when the Lake next your house is toxic. That's where our research comes into play. The hard combined effort of the LAKES-REU staff and the people of this area will clean up this lake to what people remembered. The memories of when they were kids swimming in it all summer long. This goal is a work in progress but it will have benefits that can spread farther then just this small little town. Our research could help guide other people in fixing their water problems and hopefully leading to freeing the hold on their lakes.

We all deserve to have the full experience of freedom. We are Americans after all! Lets make it so we are able to enjoy everything this great Nation has to offers. Oh yea and Happy Belayed 4th of July everyone!!!!

Question: Is freedom really free?

Celebrating the 4th of July with my team members was a blast. I really enjoyed helping Lissette and Megan pass out surveys. It was a pleasure to meet different members of the community and converse with them about the conditions of the lakes. It was also great to see the excitement and somewhat concern members of the community had about this critical issue. It shows me that people are interested in learning about the issue and passionate about contributing to a solution. We also got the chance to grill and hang with one other as we celebrated an major accomplishment of our great nation. Although it was fun and games, it continues to bring up a vital question. Is freedom really free? Every person, regardless of race, ethnicity,or age, is entitled to live in a neighborhood, and city that supports wellness and good health overall. The community members of Menomonie deserve the right to live in an environment where they have access to clean water in the lakes. Many families would love to swim and fish in the surrounding lakes but they are limited because of the phosphorus causing a rapid load of cyanobacteria. I hope by participating in the Biology aspect of the LAKES research will develop a solution and can sustain the lakes natural resources and limit the rapid growth of cyanobacteria. This would not only clear the lakes up, but give the community a reason to believe again. This environmental issue has occurred long enough and now it's time to make a difference.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

History, Time, and Creating a Future.

To put it short I have a long list of hobbies. They range from reading to video games to hiking. I think this all comes down to my biggest hobby; Exploring. I would rather spend my money going somewhere new and feeling what others have felt, to hear what they heard and to see what they saw. If professional world traveller was a position I would take it, but realistically it isn't and I don't have the money to sustain travelling forever. To make up for it I found different mediums to explore through and history is the biggest. I pick up a different book anand it allows me to jumbp into a different world and explore different ideas.

I see history as the study of time. Sure it might be different locations in time, but lets be real, what is better than reading the accounts that happened and were amazing. History is wierd though  because people generally see it as only the past, but it isn', all time iss going to be history, so we should see the world as we want it and send it in that direction the best that we can. Time is completely interactive. I think that is why, I am a part of the LAKES project; I need to do something to change the historical future.

All of my research up to this point has been in some way about changing the future and people relationship to the world and others in its future. My previous research was an exploratory study on how university students recognize structures of violence. The idea was that I would eventually find out about students understandings and find a way to educate them. The research needs to be continued even at this point because it doesn't have the implementation that I want for it to be impactful to the future.

Overall, I would say that my hobbies impact the way that I research, because I always want to see a different future by the time I am done with the research, I am doing. My hobbies are about exploring and history is how I often access exploration. It takes me to worlds of truth and time that I can research to work towards a different future.

Farmers: What do they Need?

Meta-cognition was the topic for discussion in the week two blog posts, but I totally zoned out writing up a post, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about the topic through my day to day experiences in the LAKES program.

My research project for this summer is to survey farmers and make a social network graph based off of the information that we get back from the survey, but to be honest, I have no clue what that entails at this point. Right now I am learning that farmers are very busy people and aren’t always around to take a survey. Sometimes they are willing, but they are too tired from another hard day’s work and only a little to take from it. I think that we are going to learn from the farmers that they need help to implement a lot of the best management practices that we are surveying them on, so I hope we are all up to the task, because this isn’t there job alone. If these people are putting vegetables on our tables, gas in our cars, and meat and dairy in our bellies, the least we can do is help them implement these best management practices. What I want to learn more about this summer is what help these farmers want or need to implement these practices efficiently and effectively. The way that I see it currently, is that we are asking these farmers to provide for us then we tell them how they should do it. My biggest hope is to capture this in my research to get farmers and willing volunteers on board to help them.

I plan to do this first by creating a social network graph for the farmers with the data that I receive back from the surveys. First of all, we need to know what the farmer needs to implement these practices. I think we will gather from our incentives section and landowner assistance sections of the surveys what they need and who they need it from. Then I can ask for some interdisciplinary help and see if other surveys captured public’s willingness to help the farmers in the way they need it to fix OUR watershed.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Perspective is Everything

Culture. If there is anything I am passionate about it is culture. It is exciting to learn about someone else's beliefs, values, and behaviors. I love studying and the similarities and differences among cultural background.  Learning about new cultures has given me the opportunity to appreciate diversity, but has also giving me the chance to appreciate my own culture. This overlaps into my research because I am able to appreciate someone else's values and ideas. I am interested in human behaviors and how people see the world. Sociology involves studying individuals, groups, societies. If you are able to comprehend their values and beliefs then you will be better able to understand their behaviors and what motivates them. Learning and understanding the behaviors of people is important when going around trying to get insight on how people feel about best management practices and cleaning up the lake.

This picture is from my first fish fry, which is a cultural activity that goes on every Friday in Wisconsin.

Week 3: Passion and Perspective

I'm very fortunate in that this summer's research is something that excites me, something that I'm passionate about, and something that's important. Passionate about phosphorus? Really? Passionate about surface runoff, base flow, and algal blooms? Is that a thing?
Really though, I am passionate about the environment and the people that interact with it everyday. The research I am doing in a well-equipped lab at a university in a small town in Wisconsin is such a small facet of the environment, that could have such huge impacts. That's what excites me.
Beyond having a love for the outdoors (though only a healthy respect for some of the creepy crawlies within it), I also love reading, movies, time with friends and family, and a nice mug of tea. Before coming to Stout, or going to Gustavus Adolphus, or even graduating high school, one of the first jobs I had, which I still love, was being a nanny. I had the privilege of being a nanny to a few families in my neighborhood and babysitting for family friends. I love working with kids. Whether my first job as a nanny, or Vacation Bible School counselor, to my position last summer as a Ministry Outreach Coordinator among Minneapolis youth, I have loved working with kids AND the environment. For the neighbor kids, we went to the park on nature hikes, with VBS students we planted seeds for students to take home and start their own gardens, for my Minneapolis students we planted and maintained urban farms and community gardens.
I am proudly an environmental studies major, within this major I am a social science concentration. I am passionate about the connections between humans and their natural environment. Mostly I am passionate in preserving, protecting, and enhancing the environment and this world so the kids that inspire me get to have the same appreciation and experience as they grow up. Working in a lab in Jarvis Hall of Science in a little town in Wisconsin surrounded by polluted water may seem small and specific, and the factors we are researching may seem strange or even hopeless to some. But, I am excited. I am hopeful. I am blessed to be working with this great group of young people who are just as passionate about this important work and its impacts on the environment.
Students watering a community garden in Minneapolis, MN

Neighbor kids enjoying the lush grass and privacy of the pine trees playing some badminton 
VBS students from Brooklyn, NY enjoying a rainy day in the park

How Living In Suburbia Helped Me Discover My Passion

Chris Ferguson's Picture of me doing what I love doing (and posing)!!!

When I was 12, my mother and I moved into a nice 4-bedroom house in a quiet suburbia located in Virginia. My mom's dream of owning a house had come true. This was a vast improvement from the two bedroom apartment my mother, my three older siblings and I shared while I we lived in New York City. My siblings were at different points in their lives and did not move with us. Even at that age, I was aware that this opportunity was a chance to start a new life, a life like the tweens on disney channel who lived in the suburbs and seemingly had vibrant lives. What I didn't anticipate was how lonely our new home in the suburbs would be.

The drastic change in setting tortured me.

Venice Beach, Los Angeles
Growing up in Southern California, I have had the privilege of only being an hour away from Los Angeles, beaches, mountains and more. Throughout high school and college my free time (and paychecks) have been spent in Los Angeles or on the warm Southern California beaches along the coast. During California's hot summers you can catch me strolling through Venice Beach, grabbing ice cream in Santa Monica, visiting Los Angeles' art museums, and mostly attending music festivals and concerts. Coincidentally, spending the summer in Menomonie has offered me a wonderful opportunity outside of research. As a music festival junkie, I will be attending Euax Claires music festival in two weeks with Lisette Solis! We are so excited to be doing research that we love and getting to partake in our hobbies out in Wisconsin. 

Acorny post on being a treehugger

Backpacking in Point Reyes National Park

            I’ve always really enjoyed being outdoors.  It just doesn’t feel right to me to spend a whole day inside.  I grew up swimming, playing soccer, and camping during the summers with my family.  As I got older I started camping and backpacking with my friends. 
            I took environmental science my senior year and really enjoyed it.  I loved being able to go on a hike and feel like I better understood the world around me.  However, I didn’t see myself seriously pursuing environmentalism further as an academic or professional interest.  I was pretty set on studying development, but I continued to hike, bike, camp, and casually take environmental science courses. 
It wasn’t until my sophomore year when I took a political ecology class that I started to see the connections between environmentalism and the things I was studying.  Before I had failed to see the connections between environmental issues and social issues, but this class helped me understand how interconnected the two are.  I completely rewrote my major concentration to focus on sustainable development and enrolled in biology and the core environmental science class for the next semester.  The next thing I knew I was in upper-division ecology classes and working in a conservation biology lab. 
This is probably as far I will go with science; I don’t think I’ll take any science courses in graduate school or ever be a scientist, but I’ve learned more about environmental science than I ever anticipated.  Moving forward I still plan to focus my studies and career on environmentalism, but probably from a policy or economic perspective.  I think the science courses I’ve taken will help me do this well.  Hopefully, I’ll even be to apply some of the things I’ve learned on this project.  

What is better than a breath fresh air?

Picture from my boat on the Potomac River 
Nothing beats a breath of fresh air, especially when the view after a long hike can take your breath away. I have gone on hikes all across Maryland with my family to find little hidden treasures known as caches. Geocaching was probably one of the first places I truly found Love for the environment because I got to see so many places in world that I would probably have never made the time to go see. As I've grown up I took part in Boy Scouts, Football, Wrestling, and many other activities that force you to be outside, but that long sweaty day does make feel like you actually did something.

The outdoors isn't just for work, its for relaxation too. In Maryland we are lucky enough to have just about every type of environment, except a desert. I feel blessed to have grown in a state that can provide me with so much. 

So how does this drive my research and push me to do great things? Well I have had my best memories in nature and it has lead me to even declare myself as an Environmental Science Major. I Love nature and I want to make sure that everyone can experience what I did, in one way or another. It hurts to see a beautiful lake fall to algal blooms and to know that not to many people will enjoy its beauty because of it. This drives me to keep pushing in the field and the long days in the lab because I know that I am taking a part in making a difference in fixing the problem and hopefully help others create memories that they will cherish for the rest of their lives.

Appreciating how the things I enjoy have shaped my views on Research

Lake Menomin June 2015

Some of my favorite things to do include baking, dancing, and spending time with kids. For me, all of these things have influenced my views on life in general, but also have had an impact on the way I view research.

Exploring new and exciting places!!!

One of my favorite things to do is travel. I love visiting new and exciting places that I've never been before. Rather it's a big city like New York City or a little town like Menomonie, its exciting to experience the culture and it's unique beauty. Working with the Biology group this summer, I've realized how important the upkeep of the lakes can attract people to visit and possibly move here. When I first arrived to Menomonie, I immediately noticed how incredibly beautiful the lakes were and how it gave the town a certain glow to it like no other. As week three is coming to a close, it evident that the phosphorus is causing a rapid amount of cyanobacteria, ultimately causing the lakes to turn green and losing its once glorious beauty. By participating in this REU, I hope to come to a resolution that could help the lakes sustain its natural essence. Menomonie is a great place to visit and I hope that many people may one day stumble upon this town and see what it has to offer.

Volleyball and Family Hikes: How This Makes Me Passionate About My Research

Pictured above are some players on my volleyball team, I am number 1.

Catrock, a view along the Appalachian Trail in Pawling, NY.
            I am a person who absolutely has to stay active. I have always been involved in sports and my family has always made a point to get outdoors and explore whenever we can. I play volleyball in college and although it makes my life very busy I have a beautiful family of teammates that I would not give up for anything. My family spends a lot of time hiking, boating, and swimming in New York, especially in the Catskills and along the Appalachian Trail.

So how does any of this relate to my research? Well, being a biologist in this program I am often out on Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin taking water samples and other readings to bring back to the lab and analyze. I am witnessing first hand the gradual increase in the algal bloom. There are less and less people boating and enjoying other forms of lake recreation. As a person who would love to take part in these activities, and see other people be active as well, this makes me passionate about cleaning up this watershed. When I get frustrated or overwhelmed while working on this project I often remind myself of why I am here and the potential impact that my work can have on the environment and the people in this region.