When it comes to freshwater research, where better to get hands-on experience than at one of the University of Wisconsin campuses?
In summer 2023, 31 undergraduates from Wisconsin, California, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Illinois, Alabama and Virginia participated in the Freshwater@UW Summer Research Opportunities Program, gaining valuable research, career-building and life experiences.
Led by UW-Madison, the program is supported by the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Sea Grant, Water@UW-Madison, the University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute and the UW-Madison Graduate School.
“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,” says Alison Mikulyuk, the program coordinator.
The program began as a pilot in 2022 and expanded to include any UW campus in 2023. This year, students participated in research at one of seven UW institutions: UW-Eau Claire, UW-Green Bay, UW-La Crosse, UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, UW Oshkosh and UW-Superior.
Students accepted into the research program were matched with faculty whose interests match their own. They participated in a weeklong orientation in Madison and spent the remainder of the summer conducting paid hands-on research at their chosen campus. In addition to working one-on-one with faculty and graduate student mentors, students met in person and online each week to discuss career paths, navigating graduate school, communicating science, public service and research practices.
To close out the summer, the cohort presented the results of their hard work at the Summer Research Symposium at UW-Madison in August. Each scholar presented a research flash talk to an audience of more than 100, followed by a research poster session that was well-attended by their mentors, family, and members of the public.
“I was extremely impressed by the work these young researchers presented,” Mikulyuk says. “It was a fantastic representation of the variety and quality of freshwater research conducted in our state.”
During the summer, the students were asked to reflect in writing on their experience as a Freshwater@UW Scholar. Below are edited sections of what a few of the students had to say about their experiences in the program. Longer reflections will be posted to the Sea Grant blog over the next months.
“One of my favorite parts of this experience was being able to interact closely with faculty from a university that was not my own. This experience gave me the opportunity to learn things that I would not have had the chance to learn at my university and opened my eyes to the various fields of geology. Being able to interact with students from different universities was also beneficial, as I was able to hear what others’ college experiences were like, as well as the research being conducted at other universities.” ~ Samantha Krueger, UW-Whitewater, conducted research at UW-Madison and won a Best Talk Award at the symposium
“Being in the lab and sampling is something I love, but this summer, I realized I also enjoy outreach. I had never experienced an outreach event before, but I was given the opportunity to travel to Superior, Wisconsin, for Lake Superior Day. This was one of the first times in my life that I got to talk to people at a big event who all have the same passion for the environment.” ~ Chloe Mellgren, Carthage College in Kenosha, conducted research at UW-Madison and won a Best Talk Award at the symposium
“Through my research, I learned a lot about the potential of using industrial byproducts to create sustainable solutions to environmental problems. My favorite part of the program was meeting and interacting with faculty and students from UW-Green Bay, as it allowed me to learn from experts in the field and gain new perspectives on my research.” ~ Su Than Thar, Ripon College, conducted research at UW-Green Bay
“Outside of my time conducting research, the program also provided me many opportunities for professional development. I gained insight into grad school. I also got to learn about career opportunities present with federal employment. I am so thankful for the freshwater program and all the knowledge and experiences it provided me!” ~ Kara Eppard, Bridgewater College in Virginia, conducted research at UW-Madison with USGS
“I enjoyed the fact that I was able to meet and collaborate with other students this summer. I will forever remember this experience and go on to make great use of the skills I acquired from the program.” ~ Ryan Waln, UW-Whitewater, conducted research at UW-Green Bay
In July 2023, Freshwater Collaborative granted nearly $600,000 to UW-Madison to continue the Freshwater@UW Summer Research Opportunities Program for its third and fourth years. The funding will provide immersive, hands-on mentored research experiences to 27 undergraduates to participate in summer research at one of the 13 UW institutions.