Friday, June 17, 2016

Where are all the cows?

When I got off the plane in Minneapolis I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I'd never been to the Midwest before and all I really knew about Wisconsin was they had a reputation for dairy farms. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn't what I found. For one, I've seen a horde of bison since I arrived but I haven't seen a single cow yet.

On a more relevant note however, Menomonie is smaller and far more welcoming than I was anticipating. I'm so pleased to have the opportunity to get to know this small town over the course of the summer. The ability to bike just about anywhere is incredibly refreshing and people actually say hello when you walk past them in the streets! There is so much that I haven't had the opportunity to explore yet too. I happily look forward to Saturday morning farmer's markets, figuring out how the climbing wall at UW-Stout works, and getting my very own Menomonie public library card.

The lake is also different than how I expected, it seems paradoxically innocuous and ominous. For instance, today was a lovely day and the water was clear blue. It looked so clean that it was difficult to reconcile with the pictures of green slime that comes in August, telling though was the absence of people on the lake; no one was boating or canoeing, let alone water skiing or swimming. It reminded me of how different the situation could be. The lake could be so much more of a center of town than it is, a place where people could hang out and experience nature with water that they weren't afraid to let their children wade through and dogs play in. It makes the research that we are doing here feel all the more significant.

My experience thus far with the research is incredibly positive. I have experience working on research projects with professors before but I've never had so much agency and guidance simultaneously. All the mentors, and I can speak especially about Dr. Ferguson, are remarkably good at both encouraging us to be independent and develop our own ideas while also giving us the support that we need to make these projects, and even coming up with a project, seem less daunting. I feel like I have learned so much about the community, phosphorus pollution, and even econometric analysis and it has only been the first week. I'm looking forward to continue learning from Dr. Ferguson, the other mentors, and the other REU students.

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