Marissa Jablonski, Executive Director

Dr. Marissa Jablonski is an accomplished water engineer, environmental advisor, and plastics-reduction expert who has worked in more than 45 countries on Earth. Her way of understanding and engaging in complex interactions between human beings and environmental systems, combined with her skills in storytelling and systems processes, make her a much sought after consultant and public speaker.

Marissa lives her life as part of a global community. She is a founding member and mentor to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student chapter of Engineers Without Borders, and advises on the design and implementation of projects in Guatemala. She also serves as International Coordinator of a Guatemalan-led NGO that builds infrastructure with indigenous communities’ to meet the needs of five groups involved in each project.

After earning a PhD in Environmental Engineering and serving as an instructor of Peacebuilding, Engineering, and Physics at numerous institutions in Milwaukee, Wisconsin she moved to Washington, DC to work in policy. During her time as a 2017-19 AAAS Science Technology and Policy Fellow at USAID, she was both a Public Diplomacy Fellow in the Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad and also an Environmental Advisor to the Office of Food For Peace. During this time, she was also asked by the US Embassy of Thailand and the Phuket Hotels Association to serve as an Embassy Science Fellow to design and lead a 5-point model to help reduce their single-use plastics by more than 6 million in 2018.

Marissa is an advocate for minorities and women in STEM fields and served as coordinator of NSF’s FORTE program during 2009-2015. During that time, she also designed an internationally recognized project that engaged with informal dye industries in rural India to affordably clean their wastewater. Marissa’s innovative outlook on research, business, and life has won her many awards and praise from groups that include the National Science Foundation, Philanthropic Education Organization, Mondialogo, and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board.

Be sure to follow Marissa on InstaGram and Facebook @MarissaJablonski.

Freshwater Collaborative Funded Projects 2023-2025

The Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin awarded more than $4.34 million in funding for the FY24 and FY25 budget years. The 22 funded projects will increase research and training opportunities for high school and undergraduate students and will address Wisconsin’s biggest water challenges, including emerging contaminants such as PFAS and agricultural water management issues such as phosphorus pollution.

A Collaborative Research on Synthesis of Graphene Oxide (GO) from Sustainable Resources and Its Application for Removal of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) from Water
Institutions: UW-Stevens Point, UW-Madison
Principal Investigator(s): Seyed Javad Amirfakhri, UW-Stevens Point; Xuejeun Pan, UW-Madison

PFAS is a group of chemicals detected in the drinking water of millions of Americans due to their widespread applications. They have been linked to several health concerns. The main objective of this work is to synthesize graphene oxide (GO) from sustainable resources, such as walnut shells, and to investigate the performance of GO for PFAS removal from water. Several students from UW-Stevens Point and UW-Madison will be trained to perform the research. Moreover, they will participate in disseminating the results, collaborating with industrial partners, engaging our community with STEM education, and increasing public scientific literacy on PFAS contamination.

Continuation and Expansion of the Red Cedar Watershed Monitoring Project
Institutions: UW-Stout, UW-Eau Claire, UW Oshkosh, UW-River Falls: $11,400
Principal Investigator(s): Keith Gilland, Nicole Hayes, Julia Chapman, Amanda Little (UW-Stout)
Collaborators: Sarah Vitale, UW-Eau Claire; Jill Coleman-Wasik, UW-River Falls; Greg Kleinheinz, UW Oshkosh; Chase Cummings, Dunn County Land and Water Conservation District)

The Red Cedar Watershed experiences frequent blue-green algae blooms due to phosphorus pollution. Numerous projects have been implemented to reduce runoff and restore stream channels and buffer areas. This project continues to examine the effectiveness of those projects while expanding research efforts to include whole-ecosystem and watershed processes to determine the root causes of the toxic algal blooms regularly seen in lakes in the region. Students from UW-Stout, UW-River Falls, UW-Eau Claire, and UW Oshkosh will work during the summer to survey streams, riparian corridors, and wetlands while also monitoring Lakes Tainter and Menomin to help guide management decisions regarding the Red Cedar Watershed to serve as a model for other similarly impacted watersheds throughout the region.

Continuing the Work of the Data Analysis and Monitoring Crew
Institutions: UW-River Falls
Principal Investigator(s): Jill Coleman Wasik

The Data Analysis and Monitoring Crew (or DAM Crew) is a two-week, hands-on, field-based training experience for UW students who are interested in river health and restoration. Participants work directly with practicing environmental professionals to attain the skills to implement a monitoring plan to assess ecological and geomorphological changes in a riverway that result from dam removal. The DAM Crew is a public-private partnership among UW-River Falls, the City of River Falls, Interfluve Inc., the Kinni Corridor Collaborative, and Trout Unlimited. Participants gain in-demand technical skills, increase their professional network, and serve the River Falls community.

The Cost of Cleanwater: An Efficiency Analysis of Wisconsin’s Water Utilities
Institutions: UW-Whitewater
Principal Investigator(s): Russell Kashian

Students will conduct research through the Institute for Water Business on the efficiency of water utilities and will leverage previous research to identify how costs incurred by water districts in cleaning water leads to inefficiency and increased prices. This research seeks to identify the cost of remediation to provide regulators the information necessary to make informed determinations regarding contaminant assessments. Results will be available in a public report and submitted for peer reviewed publication.

Data Collection and Parameter Estimation for a Dry Bean Yield Response to Irrigation Model
Institutions: UW-Stout
Principal Investigator(s): Keith Wojciechowski

The goal of this project is to help growers manage water resources and potentially increase yield. The research team at UW-Stout will construct automated weather stations and place them in fields containing crops. These stations will collect a variety of weather-related and plant-related data. UW-Stout’s team will analyze this data to help inform the agronomy team at corporate partner, Chippewa Valley Bean, so they can better advise their growers. Students working on this project will help construct weather stations and analyze data. Conducting this research will help these students develop a nascent expertise in precision agriculture.

Deposition and removal of emerging contaminants in the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern
Institutions: UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee
Principal Investigator(s): Inna Popova, UW-Madison; Laodong Guo, UWM

The Greater Milwaukee Estuary faces pollution from emerging contaminants, such as PFAS and pharmaceuticals, posing risks to both the environment and public health. These contaminants are removed from the water through natural processes and accumulate in sediment, where they can persist for long periods, threatening organisms and humans who come in contact with them. The pollution history of these contaminants in the estuary remains poorly understood. This collaborative research project involves the analysis of sediment cores to study the contaminants’ history and behavior. The findings will aid in managing and remediating aquatic contaminations.

Development of a Collaborative Undergraduate Research Experience to Improve Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) Adsorption in Nanoporous Solids
Institutions: UW-Stevens Point, UW-Milwaukee
Principal Investigator(s): Joseph Mondloch, UW-Stevens Point; Yin Wang, Shangping Xu, UWM

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (aka PFAS) are emerging contaminants in Wisconsin’s waterways. This project provides funding to develop a collaborative undergraduate research experience between UW-Stevens Point and UW-Milwaukee to develop new PFAS adsorption technology. Researchers will test our technology against PFAS contaminated waters including real-world samples from Wisconsin’s waterways. Hands-on experience using start-of-the-art instrumentation will prepare students to enter the workforce with experience in PFAS chemistry, analysis, and treatment. 

Engaging Undergraduate Students in Cutting-Edge Research on the Use of Earth Materials for the Removal of Contaminants including Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS)
Institutions: UW-Parkside, UW-Milwaukee
Principal Investigator(s): Zhaohui Li, Lori Allen, UW-Parkside; Shangping Xu, Yin Wang, UWM

Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are forever chemicals, indicating that they stay in water and the environment permanently. UW-Parkside and UW-Milwaukee will engage 10 undergraduate students per year to conduct cutting-edge research for PFAS and color dyes removal from water. In addition, they will conduct PFAS analyses using state-of-the-art instruments for water samples collected from local drainage and Lake Michigan. The results will help southeastern Wisconsin to develop strategies to remove emerging contaminants from water and to help protect the region from contamination by forever chemicals.

Environmental Science Fair at UWEC: Water, Water, Everywhere!
Institutions: UW-Eau Claire
Principal Investigator(s): Sarah Vitale

This new project is a one-day multi-disciplinary Environmental Science Fair at the UW-Eau Claire campus for up to 100 regional high school students and accompanying high school teachers/advisers. The fair will include hands-on breakout sessions, a panel, a plenary speaker, and a traditional program fair for participants to interact with environmental science faculty at UW-Eau Claire. Freshwater Collaborative programming will be advertised to participants.

Freshwater@UW: An Immersive Undergraduate Summer Research Opportunities Program for the University of Wisconsin System
Institutions: UW-Madison
Principal Investigator(s): Alison Mikulyuk
Collaborators: All UW campuses

The Freshwater@UW Summer Research Opportunities Program provides immersive, hands-on mentored research experiences to 27 promising undergraduates within the 13 member institutions of the Freshwater Collaborative. The program’s central aim is to support the growth of our freshwater research enterprise and freshwater workforce through collaborative, cross-system programming designed to train, recruit, retain and diversify the next generation of freshwater professionals. Funds will support the third and fourth year of implementation and continued program development as we strive to create new, high-impact opportunities for talented students to build their skill and cultivate relationships within the UW System to that will help them seek further training in freshwater science.

Freshwater Science across the Curriculum: Linked Outreach and Advanced Educational Activities in Western Wisconsin
Institutions: UW-Eau Claire, UW Oshkosh, UW-River Falls, UW-Stout
Principal Investigator(s): Sarah Vitale, UW-Eau Claire
Collaborators: Greg Kleinheinz, UW Oshkosh; Jill Coleman-Wasik, UW-River Falls; Keith Gilland, UW-Stout

This ongoing project includes two freshwater science field courses in western Wisconsin: one targeting junior and senior high school students and the other an advanced course designed for upper-level college students. These field-intensive, hands-on learning experiences introduce participants to a wide range of freshwater science topics with specialists from UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout, UW-River Falls, and UW Oshkosh. Courses are open to students enrolled in high schools across Wisconsin or from any UW System campus respectively.

From Field to Laboratory: Hands-on Techniques for Students in Water Sciences
Institutions: UW-River Falls, UW-Madison
Principal Investigator(s): Bahareh Hassanpour, UW-River Falls; Grace Bulltail; UW-Madison

This course focuses on hands-on laboratory and field techniques for studying freshwaters. Researchers will provide training in practical aspects of field measurements and laboratory practices pre-and post-sampling for students. They will conduct field campaigns for various purposes; will discuss the complexity and uncertainty of fieldwork; and focus on obtaining and preserving samples, and appropriate labeling. The laboratory training will range from day-to-day tasks, such as properly pipetting, keeping detailed records, sample preparation, and storage, to more complex analytic work, such as analyzing water samples using analytical instruments. Faculty will also work with students work on data analysis and poster presentation.

Lead, facilitate, and support policy research for the UW Water Policy Network
Institutions: UW-Milwaukee
Principal Investigator(s): Melissa Scanlan
Collaborators: All UW campuses

The Center for Water Policy leads, facilitates and supports the UW Water Policy Network, which serves as a hub for government agencies, private sector, NGOs, media and other stakeholders to identify water policy collaborators and experts. This project will foster collaboration on water policy research and curriculum across UW System by strengthening relationships among multidisciplinary faculty, researchers and students working on freshwater policy. The center convenes the UW Water Policy Network for presentations and discussions around key policy issues identified in the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin’s 10 Grand Water Challenges.

Mitigating PFAS Contamination of Groundwater: Biochar Sequestration of PFAS in Biosolid Leachate at the Field Scale
Institutions: UW-Green Bay, UW-MilwaukeePrincipal Investigator(s): Kpoti Gunn, Michael Holly, UW-Green Bay; Yin Wang, UWM

Sewage sludge or biosolids generated in Wisconsin are largely applied to agricultural lands. Through this practice, biosolids may be the most diffuse source PFAS contamination of groundwater resources. This project aims to evaluate onsite the PFAS immobilization performance of activated biochar incorporated in soils receiving biosolids, and to develop methods for PFAS analysis of soil and groundwater leachate. Four undergraduate students involved in the project will contribute to experimental setup, soil and water sampling; laboratory and data analysis; and results publication. The project will provide students and faculty with research experience critical to the development of an emerging contaminant workforce.

My River Adventures (MRA) Pre-College Camp
Institutions: UW-La Crosse
Principal Investigator(s): Monica Yang

The UW-La Crosse MRA camp is a six-day residential camp for incoming 7-12 grade students. Students will use the UW-La Crosse campus as their homebase while they enjoy a week of instructional sessions and visits to rivers in the Driftless region for hands-on fieldwork and lab activities in collaboration with UW- La Crosse faculty, local educators and community members. This camp fosters recruitment, access and aspirations for a career in STEM, specifically water-related sectors. Students will create connections with community leaders and educators who can introduce them to career paths and increase their interest in STEM post-high school.

Partnering to Boost Aquaculture Workforce Development in Wisconsin
Institutions: UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Stevens Point
Principal Investigator(s): Sharon Moen, UW-Madison; Dong-Fang Deng, UWM; Emma Hauser, UW-Stevens Point

“Where do we find young people interested in producing fish for food?” This is one of the most pressing concerns that Wisconsin food-fish farmers expressed in a recent needs assessment conducted by Wisconsin Sea Grant. To address this food security and workforce issue, collaborators from the University of Wisconsin campuses of Madison, Stevens Point and Milwaukee are cooperating with commercial fish farms and high schools, colleges, and universities with existing aquaculture programs to expand training opportunities for students across the state. The opportunities range from farm experiences and skill-building workshops to support for teams engaging in an annual aquaculture competition.

Pilot Project: Development of an In Vivo Method to Assess the Innate Immune Response in Fathead minnow Larvae
Institutions:UW-La Crosse, UW-Madison
Principal Investigator(s): Tisha King-Heiden, UW-La Crosse; Gavin Dehnert, UW-Madison

Two undergraduate students will work with faculty from UW-La Crosse and UW-Madison to develop a new bioassay to study the immune response of wild fish. As part of their training, they will job shadow at the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene to gain a deeper understanding of how bioassays are used in the field of environmental toxicology. They will meet with experts from the Wisconsin Department of Health to see how data from these bioassays can be used to inform water quality standards. Finally, they will network at science conferences to learn about job opportunities in the field of environmental toxicology.

Quantifying the Impact of Spatial and Temporal Variation in Hyporheic Zone Fluxes on Phosphorus Transport and Release in Wisconsin Streams and Rivers
Institutions: UW-Green Bay, UW-Madison
Principal Investigator(s): Erin Berns-Herrboldt, UW-Green Bay; Christopher Zahasky, UW-Madison

Riverbed sediments can be an important source of phosphorus to Wisconsin waterways, driving eutrophication and negatively impacting aquatic health, human health, and local economies. There is limited understanding of how groundwater–surface water exchange impacts river sediment phosphorus storage, and this study aims to quantify these processes. Students will characterize phosphorus and subsurface hydrology in stream sediments at two sites in central Wisconsin and conduct batch and column experiments on sediment samples to evaluate which biogeochemical conditions promote storage and release of phosphorus. Project findings are anticipated to inform land, nutrient, and water management decisions.

Training K12 Educators in Groundwater Science
Institutions: UW-Eau Claire
Principal Investigator(s): Sarah Vitale

This project entails a one-day groundwater workshop with K-12 educators in the Eau Claire Area School District, and a hands-on classroom experience for each participating educator with UW-Eau Claire faculty and undergraduate students. The workshop will include exploration of groundwater characteristics using physical flow models, field experience on the UW-Eau Claire campus well field, and a tour of the Eau Claire Municipal Water Treatment Plant. Participants will receive a groundwater model to keep and use in their classroom. The follow-up classroom experience will provide an opportunity for educators to see groundwater models used with their students and build connections to support other Freshwater Collaborative programming.

UW-Green Bay Pre-College Student Experiences in Freshwater, 2023-2025
Institutions: UW-Green Bay
Principal Investigator(s): Emily Tyner

UW-Green Bay Pre-College Student Experiences in Freshwater is the continuation and expansion of a project that will enhance community-based experiential learning opportunities for pre-college students and teachers around the Green Bay and Lake Michigan watersheds. The project will build a community of freshwater-focused educators and middle and high school students, link to statewide water experts, and engage a diversity of urban to rural communities within the UW-Green Bay region. Intended outcomes include building skills and career-oriented experiences for high school scholars interested in the water sector, recruiting students to UW-Green Bay and UW System water-centric programs, and expanding efforts toward equity, inclusion, and diversity of participants.

UW Oshkosh Comprehensive Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin Training, Community Engagement, Business Enterprise, Research, and Recruitment Program
Institutions: UW Oshkosh, UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout
Principal Investigator(s): Greg Kleinheinz, UW Oshkosh
Collaborators: Sarah Vitale, UW-Eau Claire; Amanda Little, UW-Stout

UW Oshkosh will offer student training opportunities at the Environmental Research and Innovation Center (ERIC), a state-certified laboratory for many water testing parameters as well as a contract R&D laboratory for various community and industry projects. The partnership with the Freshwater Collaborative allows students from any UW campus opportunities to work at ERIC field research sites (or take a field course) each summer, which embeds students in communities to study surface, well and groundwater. Funding from the Freshwater Collaborative will also allow for an on-campus STEM high school camp in summer 2024 (20 high school students). It will also provide resources for faculty-student research and student-industry projects. Freshwater Collaborative funding will continue to expand opportunities through the UW Oshkosh Freshwater 101 course (BIO/ENG 119) and partial support for a summer field sampling and analysis course open to all UW students. Finally, UW Oshkosh will continue to offer access to a research and teaching boat on the Lake Winnebago system at no charge to Freshwater Collaborative partners.

Water, Health, and Habitat Interactions: Building Capacity for Water Careers and Education
Institutions: UW-Milwaukee, UW-Green Bay,  UW-La Crosse, UW-Parkside, UW-River Falls, UW-Whitewater
Principal Investigator(s): Tracy Boyer
Collaborators: Chris Houghton, UW-Green Bay; Tisha King-Heiden, UW-La Crosse; Julie Kinzelman, UW-Parkside; Kevin Thaisen, UW-River Falls; Elisabeth Harrahy, UW-Whitewater

UW-Milwaukee will lead a collaboration with five UW campuses to implement three intensive hands-on courses that were developed specifically for the Freshwater Collaborative. These summer courses will provide undergraduate students throughout UW System with an affordable opportunity to conduct research and field work on Lake Michigan. These courses also create a nucleus of classes for future planned freshwater certificate offerings.

This project will also expand a UWM field course, based on feedback from industry partners, to make it more accessible to students on other campuses or those working full time. Faculty will also build an intensive series of specialized aquaculture courses that complement workforce development efforts. In addition, UWM will host a daylong field work experience aboard the R/V Neeskay for undergraduates participating in the Freshwater@UW Summer Scholars Program, a statewide Freshwater Collaborative initiative led by UW-Madison that places undergraduates in research programs throughout UW System.

Collaborative Course Offerings Include:

  • Environmental and Health Effects of Water Pollution. This is the hands-on component of a two-part course taught jointly by faculty from UWM, UW-La Crosse and UW-Whitewater.
  • Expedition to Lake Michigan. This hands-on course, taught by UWM and UW-River Falls faculty, focuses on the hydrology and biogeochemistry of Lake Michigan and incorporates a problem-based approaches to solve real problems affecting Lake Michigan.
  • Human Interactions with Lake Michigan Coastal Ecosystems. This four-week course led by UWM, UW-Green Bay and UW-Parkside explores the coast of Lake Michigan and will facilitate a greater understanding of human impacts on its coastal ecosystems.

Recording Available for PFAS, Public Health and Policy Symposium

The Great Lakes Freshwater Symposium: PFAS, Public Health and Policy on June 29, 2023, brought together stakeholders from Canada and the United States who are interested in water-related issues.

Panelists included:

  • Rebecca Klaper, Dean, School of Freshwater Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Director of the Great Lakes Genomics Center
  • Laura Suppes, 2022-23 Water Policy Scholar, Center for Water Policy; Associate Professor, Public Health and Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
  • Jim Zellmer, DNR Environmental Management Division Administrator

This event is part of a quarterly water symposium series sponsored by the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, Great Lakes Higher Education Consortium and Council of the Great Lakes Region. These events seek to encourage and advance collaborations, share science across borders, encourage students in research and career opportunities and present research that is solving real-world problems.

The Great Lakes Freshwater Symposium: The Impact of Phosphorus Rules on Local Water Recording

The Great Lakes Freshwater Symposium: The Impact of Phosphorus Rules on Local Water on February 28, 2023, brought together stakeholders from Canada and the United States who are interested in water-related issues.

Anya Janssen, water policy specialist at the UW-Milwaukee Center for Water Policy and a Sea Grant University of Wisconsin water science-policy fellow, presented key takeaways from the statewide conference Phosphorus: Lessons from 10+ Years of Numeric Standards for Wisconsin’s Waters.

This was the first event in a series of quarterly water symposiums sponsored by the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, Great Lakes Higher Education Consortium and Council of the Great Lakes Region. These symposiums seek to encourage and advance collaborations, share science across borders, encourage students in research and career opportunities and present research that is solving real-world problems.

UW-Platteville Students Spotlight: Mussel and Fish Surveying

In summer 2022, students from UW-Platteville participated in research through “Collaborating to Protect and Monitor Streams in an Agricultural Landscape,” a grant funded by the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin. The project was a cooperative effort among UW-Platteville faculty, undergraduate students, the Harry and Laura Nohr Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to collect data on stream communities and habitats in agriculture-based watersheds of southwest Wisconsin.

For more about the project, read UW-Platteville Student Researchers Support WDNR, Trout Unlimited Conservation Efforts.

Here’s what student researchers said about their experience. (This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

Chloe Mellody: biology major with zoology or ecology emphasis
Lindsey Ockerlander: criminal justice and biology double major
Myah Sierens: biology major with ecology emphasis, environmental minor, GIS certificate
Tyler Vargo: broad field science major

Tell us about the project.

Ockerlander: The first part of summer we were working with Trout Unlimited. We went to sites to gather fish and habitat measurements. Some sites may not have been actively measured since 2011 and 2015, while others were being more regularly measured. Our duties consisted of habitat measurement and taking notes on substrate, erosion and tree coverage. We went into the river and used samplers to collect invertebrates to identify in the lab later. We also did fish shocking where we measured the approximate number of fish in an area and took notes on species and length.  

Mellody: For the second part of the research, we scouted sites for mussels, their presence, their size and their species [for the Wisconsin DNR]. We found about eight to nine different live species and gauged the diversity of the population and the health of the streams.

Participating in the mussel relocation project has helped Chloe Mellody identify new career pathways./Photo by Rebecca Doyle-Morin

What skills did you learn? 

Ockerlander: We were trained by Kristopher Wright and Rebecca Doyle-Morin, our professors, who have been working on these projects for years. We learned how to fish shock. We learned how to measure fish. We had to take a certification course before going into this project to make sure that we were able to properly handle fish. We also had a general certification to make sure that we were ready to deal with living animals in the field and to make sure we weren’t disrupting the ecology. 

Mellody: One of the most important things for me was learning how to do formal surveying when it comes to habitat and invertebrates. I really love fish so the most useful skills I learned were fish identification, how to handle fish and how to find fish in an environment. And the other skills were teamwork and communications, which are really important things you need in a research team. 

Vargo: During my time on the stream team, I learned a lot about our local habitats and species here in southwest Wisconsin, and I gained a lot of valuable research skills, but I think the most important thing I gained was learning the value of teamwork while doing field research and taking advantage of every team member’s strengths.

What was your favorite part?

Sierens: One of my favorite parts of the summer was electroshocking fish because you see this small stream and you don’t think there are massive fish in there. But then you’ve got these massive white suckers and so many different types of fish. I thought that was really cool. Being able to be outside in a stream and in beautiful environments was super refreshing compared to other summer jobs I’ve had. 

Mellody: My favorite part was also the shocking for the exact same reason. It’s just awesome to see the diversity of fish in such a small stream. You never think there will be a 12-inch fish in a five-foot wide stream. 

Vargo: My favorite part of the project was definitely going out pollywogging, where we would trudge through muddy streams all day in search of mussels. It wasn’t very pretty work, but the team we had made it worth it, and eventually finding mussels was always exciting. I remember the first time we found a new mussel site in the field, and everyone went crazy. It was one of my best memories from the summer.

What would you tell other students who are considering field work?

Ockerlander: I definitely recommend field work to students, even those who aren’t interested in going into a field position because you do so much. We were comparing data. There was lab work identifying invertebrates. We did a huge mussel relocation in La Crosse, and we were able to talk with scientists there. We did library outreach, so we were helping with children and had to learn how to communicate the science to them. There were a lot of good experiences if you are going into any biology field.

Mellody: It’s not just about learning about ecology and streams in the middle of Wisconsin. It’s also learning about teamwork. For me, I learned how to use a map, which I’d never used before. I think the best thing for students, even those who aren’t going into field work, are all the skills that you learn and the people you meet.

Sierens: The only thing I would add is just being able to meet different people with different interests. It’s been a good experience to be able to work on communication and learning cooperation within a team.

UW-Platteville students learned valuable surveying skills./Photo by Rebecca Doyle-Morin

How will participating in this research project help you attain your career goals?

Sierens: I hope to do something in the realm of field biology. I’ve been looking at all the possible pathways I could take. Going into this summer, I was excited just to be doing something within biology in general. This project opened more doors because it increased my appreciation for mussels or fish. Being able to work with them closely and see their environment and study them has really opened my eyes to opportunities.

Mellody: I had no idea it was such an open field. There are just so many career options. 

Ockerlander: I have a job already lined up with Prevention Genetics in Marshfield, Wis. I secured the job last summer. They were looking for new employees because they will be expanding. One of my future coworkers was an ecology major, and it was nice being able to talk with her about what was going on with this project and what I will soon be doing in an oncology genetics lab. It seems very different, but it was very interesting to see what the overlap will be and to have that connection with somebody who did basically the same thing that I did over the summer.

Tyler Vargo is now considering a career doing field work./Photo by Rebecca Doyle-Morin

Vargo: Originally, I was planning on teaching science in a high school setting, but now I’ve shifted toward being in the field more. I still want to educate others, but I want to spend more of my time outdoors, studying nature, and working with a team to discover new things. The research project I was a part of has already helped me discover new career paths that I didn’t even know existed before, and it has shown me what truly makes me happy when considering a career. It also gave me skills that I can translate to future tasks and opportunities when working with others. Not to mention that I can add pollywogging as a skill to boost my resume!

Clean Boats Clean Waters​ Paid 2023 Summer Internships​

Located in beautiful northern Wisconsin, the Clean Boats Clean Waters (CBCW) program focuses on Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) in the Vilas County area and provides information to the boating public regarding AIS prevention.

Interns will gain valuable hands-on experience with the following responsibilities:  

  • Collecting and recording data in accordance with the Wisconsin Clean Boats Clean Waters program interview protocol 
  • Inspect boats, trailers, tow vehicles and related equipment for the presence of aquatic plants, animals, or water 
  • Compliance with Wisconsin laws, working alongside lake organizations and the Vilas County wardens, prohibiting launching or transporting of boats and related equipment with aquatic plants, animals, or water on board 
  • Conducting field research regarding water quality and terrestrial/AIS mapping for each landing 
  • Uploading collected data to a State database and UW Oshkosh database weekly ​​

Salary and Benefits

Interns receive a gross income of $5,000 for the summer with the opportunity to earn more, There is plenty of free time to have fun in the Northwoods or get a second job to earn more for school. There is a $1,250 travel is reimbursement for each intern. Also, housing (usually a local house) is provided and paid for by the University. You may also potentially sign-up for internship credits for your experience.​​

Apply by sending a resume and cover letter to, or contact the UW Oshkosh Environmental Research and Innovation Center (ERIC) from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays for more information. The ERIC is at 783 Pearl Avenue, just behind Kolf by the river. Apply early, as positions will be filled on rolling basis! Students from any UW school are welcome to apply.​​

We expect all positions to be filled by March 10, 2023!

Freshwater Collaborative Funded Projects August 2022

In August 2022, the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin awarded $544,541 in funding for eight projects that will increase research and student training collaborations among the UW System universities.

Climate and Water: Innovative Weather for Future Professionals
Institution(s): UW-Milwaukee
Grant Description:
The Atmospheric Science program at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee has provided a weather decision support experiential learning program called Innovative Weather to UW-Milwaukee students since 2007. This program serves the weather risk mitigation needs of community partners while serving the professional training goals of students. The Freshwater Collaborative support, recognizing the close connection between weather and freshwater, will extend this program’s reach across the state by providing this expertise to interested UW System researchers.

Cross-Campus and Partner Expansion of the Red Cedar Basin Monitoring Project
Institution(s): UW-Eau Claire, UW Oshkosh, UW-River Falls, UW-Stout
Grant Description: The Red Cedar Watershed experiences frequent blue-green algae blooms due to phosphorus pollution. Numerous projects have been implemented to reduce runoff and restore stream channels and buffer areas. This project continues a pilot project to examine the effectiveness of those projects while expanding research efforts to determine the root causes of the toxic algal blooms regularly seen in lakes in the region. Students from UW-Stout, UW-River Falls, UW-Eau Claire and UW Oshkosh will work during the summer to survey streams and collect water samples to guide management decisions regarding the Red Cedar Watershed to serve as a model for other similarly impacted watersheds throughout the region.

Economic Impacts of Wisconsin Fishing Supported by The Freshwater Resources of Lake Michigan and Bay of Green Bay
Institution(s): UW-Green Bay, UW-Whitewater
Grant Description: Student and faculty researchers seek to quantify the total economic value of the freshwater fishery resources of Lake Michigan and Bay of Green Bay to the state of Wisconsin. In addition, they will analyze how different fishery management strategies and climate change scenarios may impact the quality, and therefore economic value, of these resources. Changes in quality and economic value in turn affect the health of regional economies and welfare of residents and visitors. Ultimately, this information helps inform resource managers about the most efficient and effective strategies available to maximize the value of this resource now and in the future.

Evaluation of Downstream Juvenile Lake Sturgeon Passage Through Two Dams on the Menominee River
Institution(s): UW-Green Bay
Grant Description: Lake Sturgeon passage has been embraced as a restoration prescription in the Great Lakes. Adaptive management strategies dictate that quantitative assessment of passage benefits be provided to managers. This project will evaluate the effectiveness of downstream juvenile passage on the Menominee River and through the Park Mill and Menominee Dams. Faculty and student researchers will evaluate the movement of tagged age-0 lake sturgeon to better understand habitat-use, downstream passage, and survival. Our data will influence future fish passage operation at the Menominee facility and others around the Great Lakes and build justification for restoring spawning habitats in upstream areas where passage is discussed.

Freshwater Science Across the Curriculum: Linked Outreach and Advanced Educational Activities
Institution(s): UW-Eau Claire, UW Oshkosh, UW-River Falls, UW-Stout
Grant Description: The project continues to develop the Freshwater Science Field Experience (FSFE) in Western Wisconsin, an outreach and recruitment program targeting junior and senior high school students. It is a field-intensive, hands-on learning experience that introduces participants to a wide range of freshwater science topics with specialists from UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout and UW-River Falls. The course will be offered for two University of Wisconsin credits. The second objective of this project further develops an immersive eight-day Western Wisconsin Advanced Freshwater Field Course for undergraduates with hands-on experiences designed to increase the employability of UW System students across the state. This course is a collaboration between UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout, UW-River Falls and UW-Oshkosh.

From Field to Laboratory; Hands-on Techniques for Students in Water Sciences
Institution(s): UW-Madison, UW-River Falls
Grant Description: Laboratory and field training are essential in water-related fields of study; thus, by a collaboration between UW-River Falls and UW-Madison campuses, faculty on this project will develop a two-credit transformative course that focuses on laboratory and field techniques for freshwater-related work. The objective is to increase students’ field and laboratory skills to support professional development and cultivate interest in freshwater sciences. Faculty will focus on practical knowledge of field measurements related to water quality and nutrient analysis and good laboratory practices pre-and post-sampling. They aim to reach out to an array of students from diverse backgrounds across Wisconsin.

Leveraging the strength of the Wisconsin Agriculture-Water Nexus Network (WAW2N) for transformative student experiences
UW-Green Bay, UW-Madison, UW-Platteville, UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point, UW-Stout
Grant Description: The cross-campus Wisconsin Agriculture-Water Nexus Network will create transformational education experiences that provide students with a greater understanding of the connection between agriculture and water and the need for multi-disciplinary solutions that support both food production and maintaining high-quality freshwater resources across Wisconsin. The project will also support the online delivery of a newly designed cross-campus course at the nexus of agriculture and water, which will highlight learnings at the ag-water nexus attained under previous Freshwater Collaborative–funded projects. A multiday field trip course built around variations in southwest Wisconsin agriculture will complement the online course. Bringing together experienced and new faculty/staff as well as community and academic partners to co-develop transformative student experiences will also strengthen the Freshwater Collaborative’s goals. This project grows the number of involved UW institutions from three to six.

Summer Research Experience in Freshwater Ecology for Undergraduates
Institution(s): UW-Stevens Point 
Grant Description:
This project supports the participation of five students in a Research Experience for Undergraduates experience coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Wisconsin Cooperative Fishery Research Unit (WICFRU), which is part of the College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point. The WICFRU provides unique hands-on opportunities for undergraduates to work on applied freshwater research and collaborate with federal scientists, university faculty, graduate students, and researchers and agency personnel from the Wisconsin and Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and various tribal organizations from the Midwest.

UW-Madison Undergraduates Address Water Challenges and Clarify Career Paths

What happened when nine undergraduate students from universities across the country convened at UW-Madison for a summer research program? A lot of outstanding freshwater research, mentorship, networking and fun.  

The student internships were part of a pilot program of the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin Summer Research Experience Program (SREP) for undergraduates. Each student was paired with a faculty member and graduate student mentors to work on a pressing water issue, such as algal blooms, sustainable aquaculture, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or groundwater contamination. Students also had opportunities for professional development and cultural enrichment. 

“The program provided immersive student research experiences to build workforce development skills and also to let undergraduates work with research groups and possibly consider the option of pursuing graduate studies in Wisconsin,” says James Hurley, director of the UW Aquatic Sciences Center and lead faculty member for SREP. 

SREP internships were offered through a partnership between the Freshwater Collaborative, Wisconsin Sea Grant and the University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institutes. UW-Madison leveraged the existing infrastructure of its Summer Research Opportunity Program for graduate students to launch SREP. One of the goals is to create a centralized system for recruiting and placing undergraduates throughout UW System. 

“We learned a ton this summer about how to make this all work better in the future,” Hurley says. “Our plan is to extend the program in summer 2023 to all UW System campuses for both hosting and sending students through the Freshwater Collaborative.”

Getting field experience boosted Manasi Passi Simhan’s confidence as a researcher.

For Manasi Passi Simhan, a UW-Madison biology and environmental studies double major, the program provided a confidence boost. She had worked in a lab during the school year but felt she lacked hands-on fieldwork. Working in Eric Roden’s geosciences lab, Simhan spent a lot of time in the field, collecting and analyzing river sediment samples.   

“Two key skills I have learned through this program are independence in the lab and resourcefulness when following a procedure,” she says. “Over the last eight weeks, I’ve definitely gained confidence with the help of my mentors.” 

Her mentors also helped her identify future career paths. Simhan has been interested in both environmental and medical research but was struggling to find a way to connect the two subjects.  

“Working alongside two wonderful graduate student mentors has given me a better understanding of what I really want to do with my research,” she says. “I hope to continue my studies in graduate school and to work in a research field at the intersection of environment and medicine in the future.” 

Others also indicated that their graduate student mentors played a significant role in their summer experience. 

The REU program helped Elisabeth Bautista build upon prior field work in Belize.

“I was able to talk with my graduate mentor not only about the research I completed this summer but also about topics such as applying to grad school and pursuing a PhD,” says Elisabeth Bautista, who is double majoring in conservation biology and global health with a certificate in sustainability.  

She plans to work in marine research and rehabilitation, and participating in SERP built upon her prior research experience in Belize. Bautista’s summer research into aquaculture/aquaponics allowed her to develop new lab skills and learn how to communicate with those without a scientific background. She also appreciated the career and networking opportunities. 

“I was able to go on a First Nations cultural tour and talk with professionals from the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) about obtaining careers in this field,” says Bautista, who will continue her undergraduate research in the Hicks Research Lab at UW-Madison in fall. 

Many of the students noted that one of the most significant skills they learned was how to be creative and flexible when approaching a scientific problem. 

Undergraduate Lily Wagner learned how to get creative during her research in aquatic pesticides.

“Both in the laboratory and in the field, things will go wrong and there are factors that can’t be controlled,” Lily Wagner, a UW-Madison undergraduate. “I learned a lot about finding creative ways to problem solve when aspects of an experiment are not working correctly.”  

Wagner’s research focused on the environmental fate of an aquatic pesticide used to control the invasive sea lamprey population. Her internship helped her to realize that she wants to conduct fieldwork in her future research career in environmental conservation. 

“The laboratory and field skills I learned in this project will definitely help me as I do research in the future,” she says.