After completing one week here in Menomonie, it is still so surreal that I'm here working with the most incredible group on the LAKES REU project. I am so thankful and lucky to collaborate on research that the community of Menomonie is so invested in, and the people working alongside me are the most positive, inspirational people I could ever ask for (I'm pretty sure I've never seen my mentor without a smile on his face). This is my first experience with legitimate research; I've only ever needed to do research for projects in my college classes. However, with real-life research that actually affects an entire town, I'm beginning to feel how high-stakes this project really is. The slight feeling of nervousness only drives me to be more ambitious because I strive to force myself out of my comfort zone, and this program is designed to do exactly that.
This first week revolved around getting background information on the town of Menomonie and the water quality issues surrounding the Red Cedar Watershed. The view of Lake Menomin is stunning from our living quarters, and while the temptation to jump right in is strong, we've been heavily advised not to do so. It's amazing that something so beautiful can have such a dirty secret (which is why we're all here in the first place!). As a Quantitative Economics major, I'm a part of a project that will likely focus on the economic impacts of improving the water quality in the nearby lakes. I really look forward to utilizing a software called IMPLAN, which will allow us to model the local economy and predict the economic impacts of certain changes made in the area, such as an increase in tourism from better water quality of the lakes.
Before coming here, I certainly had high expectations of this program. I jokingly told my friends and family that I was headed off to "research bootcamp" for the summer, which excited me because I desperately wanted real research experience. And now, after only one week, all of my expectations have been exceeded. We were so warmly welcomed by all the professors and the community, and it just seems too good to be true that I was granted the opportunity to work on interdisciplinary social science research here at UW Stout. This is truly the ultimate learning experience for those interested in working towards solutions for complex environmental problems that affect so many people. My colleagues and I all come from different states, different majors, and different schools, yet we're all able to collaborate on one singular goal: to improve the water quality of the Red Cedar Watershed. I absolutely cannot wait to see how the rest of this summer unfolds.