Saturday, June 18, 2016

Both the work and civic environment have exceeded my expectations. As a mathematician, it’s exciting to work on projects that have the potential to help out a whole community of people and not just focus on solving abstract equations in a white walled room. It’s extremely helpful and interesting to work with others from different disciplines to get insight on other aspects of the problem I might never have considered. It’s also really inspiring to see the whole community support this project especially since everyone is interested in the research that could potentially help the community. 

I come from a midsized city, but adjusting to this town has been really easy since everyone has given us such a welcoming reception. The town and surrounding area is very beautiful and I’m excited for the chance to get outside and explore the trails, which I don’t really get a chance to do in my hometown. My mentor and peer collaborator have also been friendly while also pushing me to be a better mathematician and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer holds!  

-Mackenzie Jones

A Trip Worth 6 Hours in the Airport

Coming from the University of Connecticut, I was expecting more or less of the same environment here at UW-Stout. My university is located in Storrs, a very rural area of Connecticut where our school constitutes the majority of the town. Upon arriving in Menomonie, I was happy to see that this wasn’t the case. With a downtown area and weekly community events such as the Farmer’s Market and Ludington Guard Band, the campus feels much more intertwined with the local community. It was a nice change to have a local coffee shop within walking distance to do work in rather than just a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised this first week by the level of community engagement in the LAKES program. The amount of local involvement has made working on the project even more exciting. Meeting the residents that this research will directly affect has helped put the project into perspective and emphasized the impact it will have on the local community.

Although I have previously done research at UConn, it was under the guidance of a single professor and we only met once a week, sometimes less. In addition, I did the majority of the work on my own time. The work environment we’ve had for the LAKES REU has been a much more enjoyable experience for me. I’ve found that meeting every day of the week has really helped keep the continuity of the research and helped me maintain focus on the work. It’s also a nice change to be able to focus 100% of my attention on the research rather than having to split my time between research and schoolwork. In addition, I’ve really enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of our research. As a double major in economics and geography, the research for the LAKES program spans both of my disciplines. Although I’m working on the economics research under Dr. Ferguson, he has been very open about incorporating geography into the research using GIS software. Being able to include both of my areas of interest in one research project will be a very rewarding experience. My time in Menomonie has already exceeded my expectations and I greatly look forward to learning more about the community and how we can help it.

-Caitlin Delaney

Friday, June 17, 2016

Familiar Territory, New Adventures

As a local moving into the dorms of Red Cedar, there isn't much of a change of scenery. I've lived no more than a twenty minute drive from Menomonie for most of my life, so the towns, waters, and culture are all deeply familiar to me. That being said, the LAKES project is giving me a chance to give back to the place and people I call home, and I've had a fantastic time this week getting familiar with the structure of the project. I was excited to discover all of the different opportunities for research questions. For me, it's like walking through a candy store.

Even though the Scenery is the same, the people are very different. This week, I've had the unique opportunity to get to know some fantastic students from all corners of the US. While we all have different experiences, I feel a shared determination from all of us to make some real change this summer.

New perspectives for a Stoutie

Last Sunday, I packed up my things and made the journey all the way to the UW-Stout Red Cedar Hall... from across town. I'm a Stout student, and I'll be a senior next year in the Applied Social Science program. When I was a freshman, I came to school in late August when the algae blooms were really quite something. The smell was overwhelming, but everyone just shrugged it off, saying that it was something that just happens every year, and you get used to holding your breath when you run by it. So when I heard about the LAKES REU, I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of, but not just because I experienced the algae blooms every season. This experience will show me the many different aspects and figures that play into the health of Lake Menomin and the rest of the Red Cedar Watershed. Additionally, I've realized in the past year that one of my favorite things is people coming together to create genuine change. And, even though this is on a different scale than I'm familiar with, this REU is that: people coming together, across disciplines and backgrounds, to make a difference.

So when I moved into the dorm that will be my temporary home for the next seven weeks, I was excited. Excited to meet my peers, greet my professors again after the school year had ended, and really to get started. In our first week, we focused more on orienting ourselves to the community and to the projects themselves. We started with some background information, becoming familiar with the various software programs we'll be using, and getting a feel for what we'll be doing for the summer. Even though it's just the first week, I'm excited to work with my mentor and research partner to look into various policies and oral histories, as well as with the other research projects, and the community of the Red Cedar Watershed.

All the Comforts of Research…I Mean Home

En route to a local convenience store yesterday evening I remarked to a fellow research intern that it felt as though we had been in Menomonie far longer than the short four days since our arrival.  Feelings of comfort and belongingness in Menomonie ensued shortly after unpacking and settling in at Red Cedar Hall in the late afternoon of Sunday, June 12th.

Menomonie is an exceptionally charming community, reminiscent of idealistic small town America.  A town dichotomized by streets lined with locally owned small businesses and the surrounding University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie evokes comparison to a modern-day, Andy Griffith-esque Mayberry.

Our team of eleven undergraduate researchers kicked off week one with a picnic on Lake Menomin, a bike tour of the UW-Stout campus, and a short hike around a nearby geographical feature called the Devil’s Punchbowl.  Near the end of our first week, we were formally welcomed into the Menomonie community with a meet-and-greet hosted at a local coffee shop and catered by a neighboring restaurant.  It is these experiences, amongst others, that have manifested in me a sense of belonging in the Menomonie community.

My immediate high regard for the community is paralleled only by my first impressions of the LAKES REU mentors and the work environment they have created for us.  A team of five, the LAKES mentors quickly demonstrated their passion and dedication to the research initiatives, betterment of the Menomonie community, and their commitment to fostering academic and personal growth in the research interns.

Working with LAKES REU director, sociologist Dr. Nels Paulson, my research partner (Clare Salerno) and I were given a hands-on introduction to several software programs, including Qualtrics, Zotero, Kumu, and SPSS.  In order to efficiently gain thorough knowledge of these programs, Nels guided Clare and me in a mini research project for which we designed a small survey and collected data from over 100 respondents. We then conducted a Social Network Analysis (SNA) using SPSS for statistical analysis and Kumu to create a visual representation. 

All of this in focus, I cannot have expectations any higher than those developed during this first week. The stage is set—Menomonie, Wisconsin creating a beautiful backdrop for a remarkable cast of dedicated mentors and eager research interns.  I wait expectantly for the LAKES REU plot to unfold.

Sensing place

If you took my previous experiences growing up in rural Vermont, attending college in a larger town outside of Boston, and visiting various parts of Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, along with brief visits to the Twin Cities and Door County, WI and put all of these places together, that’s what Menomonie feels like to me.  There are hills and cows and farms like in Vermont, but the town is much larger than the one I grew up in and closer to other towns, like in Massachusetts, though my interactions with people and the architecture and streets remind me of places and people I’ve met where my parents grew up in Ohio and Illinois.  I kind of feel like I’ve met everyone before and that I’ve already been here, even though it is an entirely new place.  

I do not think I had fully understood the level of pollution in the lakes here or just how important the work we set out to do is for the community.  I guess it takes actually seeing and inhabiting a landscape to internalize the implications of phosphorus pollution.  At the meet and greet at the Raw Deal yesterday, someone told me they hope the blooms are bad this year so we can see them and understand the gravity and extent of the problem.  Hearing this made me feel very humbled by the experiences I have had so far and by the job ahead.  On one hand, the other students and I represent “bright young minds” from across the country, seeing this place with fresh eyes and eager to apply the skills we have learned in classrooms that often seem removed from real communities and problems.  But I also recognize that we are here to learn from Menomonie and its people as much as we seek to educate the community with our projects.  

To that end, the work we have done so far represents a combination of academic things I have learned in the classroom and integrating with the community in a way that reminds me of going to events in my hometown, especially when I was involved in different community projects in high school.  I suppose in my expectations of our work, I thought more about the big picture of implementing water quality solutions and less about the fact that I would need to spend a lot of time learning new software, data analysis skills, and sociological ideas to do so.  I have spent much of the week learning about Social Network Analysis, and branch of sociology with which I have little experience, and it is much more technical, scientific, and mathematical than what I have done before, but I have already learned so much.  I am excited to continue working with the other students and mentors!

On Wednesday I decided to take my borrowed bike out for a ride, heading out towards Devil’s Punchbowl, which we had visited on the first day here.  In a car, I hadn’t really noticed the hills, but on a bike without many gears, I was surprised.  I certainly did not expect to have trouble getting up hills in Wisconsin.  I meandered down Paradise Valley Road, past Devil’s Punchbowl and the strawberry farm, seeing where the road went.  Soon I ended up in Irvington, but I figured if I took enough right turns I would get back to Menomonie, since making loops is more fun than going out and back and I have made a general rule that I don’t get lost while exploring. Following the ATV routes, I was struck by how similar the landscape looks to Vermont, the only thing missing was the constant backdrop of the mountains.  The view from the top of the last steep hill was pretty spectacular.  Though I took a guess about which way to go, as the road meandered downhill I was soon rewarded with a glimpse of the Stout clock tower and Menomonie in the distance, a moment of adrenaline and triumph at learning the landscape after a hectic first few days.  

It's green everywhere

Being from drought ridden southern California, the very first thing I noticed about this area was how green it was. On our way over from the airport in Minneapolis, all I could do was look out the window because I was impressed with all the greenery. I was born and raised in San Diego and lived there for 21 years. I moved to Los Angeles two years ago to study Geography (emphasis in GIS) at California State University, Northridge. I didn’t really know what to expect from Menomonie except that it would be much different than the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. That is one of the main reasons why I chose to come here. I find it really enjoyable and educational to visit places that are completely different than what I am used to, especially when given the opportunity to live there. It is a learning experience like no other because you get to really immerse yourself in the local culture and actually be a part of the community.  

In my 5 days here, my experience has been nothing but positive. The people are extremely welcoming and very friendly. Every day I’m impressed more with how different it is here than where I am from. The sights look different because southern California is nowhere near as green and the lakes don’t have much water. The sounds are different because of the wildlife, I heard different bird chirps than the ones I’m used to. The smell is different because I’m actually breathing clean air and not car exhaust. The taste is different because there is no Mexican food but lots of delicious cheese. (Cheese curds are great) The feel is different because I can easily get to most places in town on a bike instead of sitting in traffic.

I’m very excited to work with our fantastic mentors and fellow students. I can’t wait to see what else this area has to offer and what more I can learn from it.

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.

A Familiar Stranger

To me, Menomonie and UW-S is like a familiar stranger. I grew up on a farm outside of a small town of about 6,000 in northern Iowa. People wave as you walk or drive by, even if they don't know you, though odds are they either know you or one of your immediate family members. Most of the stores are locally owned. There's a great sense of community and tradition. From what I have been exposed to, Menomonie feels a lot like my hometown, albeit with a few more trees and hills.

I get a similar feeling from UW-S. It's certainly bigger than my campus of Simpson College- we only have about 1400 undergrads and any point on the campus is easily within about ten minutes walking distance from another- but it feels familiar. The professors are wonderful; they are incredibly helpful and care about us, both academically and personally. It's for this exact reason that I wished to attend a small college and I am delighted to find it true of UW-S.

I am primarily hoping for a learning experience in regards to the LAKES REU. As I am entering my senior year of college, I grow ever closer to having to make some pretty significant career decisions. Before choosing whether or not to attend grad school, I wish to see whether I actually enjoy research and, if so, determine which areas I might be interested in further studying. The fact that I can help a great community through my soul-searching is just icing on the cake. I also get to work on a pretty nifty application of mathematics and have the opportunity to explore ways that I can combine my major of math with my minor in computer science. Judging by the last couple of days, I certainly won't be bored! I can't wait to see what this little adventure will bring.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A New Place for New Thoughts

When I first arrived here in Menomonie, I told myself not to have any expectations or thoughts about what the summer would be like. With a new experience, especially one so unfamiliar, I wanted to put forth my best effort into having things surprise me, and not be so caught up in over thinking what would happen upon arrival. So, I wanted a blank slate for myself in terms of thinking about the project I would be doing and the civic engagement that would be required.

However, I still had images in my head of what the town would be like, and how the program would work. Being from the south, I had never been this far north until now, so that was something new to look forward to. I also had never practiced ethnographic research in a formal setting apart from class requirements, so I was really looking forward to learning and preforming that task for the project. That being said, Menomonie exceeded the images in my head. I am from the Blue Ridge Mountains, and seeing hilly greenery surrounded by water made me feel right at home. I enjoy the college town atmosphere a lot, and feel comfortable navigating my way through. I think someones environment really contributes to the overall attitude they take on for work, as well as how their initial mindset for each day starts, and since Menomonie has certain similarities to something I am comfortable with, it is naturally easy to settle in well.

Before this REU, I had never worked on formal social science projects. I have experience in the field for various other projects, but I never thought that a social science internship, especially an anthropological one, existed to the extent that I could do it. My love for anthropology is one that makes me think, "There's no way I can enjoy something so much, and actually have it be my job!", but then these types of REUs and professions are real, and they do exist. So, my only expectation that I held before arriving was simply being happy doing what I love and in a place that allows me to expand my knowledge, apply what I already know, and gain insight and understanding to new people that are on a different but similar path that I am currently on. In that sense, LAKES REU has both met and exceeded the expectation. Everyone is dedicated, intelligent, and welcoming. Working with people like that, and building those connections while doing research in a field that I am passionate about is a rare and wonderful experience that I cannot wait to explore further. To me, that is the most important expectation to have, but for myself, and that is something that I will take with my beyond this summer, and into my future.