A Double Dose of Hands-On Learning

UW-Oshkosh's ERIC prepares students in both lab and field

On the banks of the Fox River, just a short stroll from Lake Winnebago, a nondescript building houses one of the state’s most important research and training hubs for environmental health and safety.

Since opening in 2008, the Environmental Research and Innovation Center (ERIC) has partnered with county health departments, local communities and individual members of the public on a range of projects, including monitoring the safety of well water and recreational beaches. Graduate and undergraduate students training at the facility learn the same rigorous, standardized testing procedures used at high-profile national labs.

“In most water fields, you really have to be comfortable with both lab and field work,” says ERIC Director Greg Kleinheinz, a UW-Oshkosh environmental engineer and microbiologist. “One of the unique things our students get is that combination of hands-on work.”

Now, thanks to support from the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, ERIC will roll out a new training opportunity for undergraduate students across the state. Beginning with four students in early 2021, the program will offer both online and hands-on lab training, followed by a summerlong experience at a field station in Door County’s Sturgeon Bay. The project allows for customized areas of focus and scheduling so each student can build a program that best suits their interests and needs.

Kleinheinz says the project has value well beyond preparing individual students for a career in water.

“I see this as a catalyst to increase collaboration,” says Kleinheinz.

The FCW-funded project, like the FCW itself, is about combining the unique resources at 13 campuses into a single freshwater sciences powerhouse.

“In a time of limited fiscal resources, there’s no sense in duplicating efforts,” Kleinheinz says. “Taxpayers have invested in our facility. Let’s make it available to students across campuses. It’s a much more efficient use of resources.”