WMU Freshwater Science and Sustainability Program Bridges Environmental Research and Policy Change

by Tyler Lecceadone
Nov. 1, 2017 | Extended University Programs News

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.,—The freshwater science and sustainability program at Western Michigan University-Traverse City was launched in partnership with Northwestern Michigan College in 2014. Since then, students are continually taken to the next level of environmental learning and policy change.

As an interdisciplinary and integrative program, it provides students with the knowledge and skills to understand and research freshwater ecosystems, and how to integrate scientific research with the environmental, social and economic issues of sustainable freshwater management. The program prepares students to address the complex regional, national and global challenges related to the sustainability of freshwater resources.

Connor Bebb, a current WMU student, was able to follow his passions with the help of freshwater science and sustainability program.

“I enrolled in WMU’s freshwater program because of my personal interest in freshwater systems and how unique the program is on a national level,” Bebb said. “I believe that WMU’s program is at the forefront of this field of study, so I was extremely excited to enroll.”

WMU-Traverse City’s accessibility to the Great Lakes, as well as northern Michigan’s lakes, streams and wetlands offers many opportunities for hands-on studies. Andrew Cater, a 2016 freshwater and sustainability graduate, is currently a certified operator of the Traverse City water plant. Cater credits his success to the hands-on field training available provided by the freshwater science and sustainability program.

“The sustainability aspect of the degree comes into play more often than I would have thought,” Cater said. “There were countless hands-on training opportunities, and the courses actually applied to my major.”

Beyond helping students gain experience in the water taking environmental samples, the program also includes courses in environmental and freshwater policy. This aspect has provided a career path for students who are passionate about policy change.

“After a couple of years working with at risk youth and domestic violence, I found myself beginning to reevaluate my career goals. I want to combine my social work background with my passion for the environment,” said Adam Smith, a current student in the program. “I enrolled in WMU’s freshwater program to give back to the community what the community has given to me—safe, beautiful waterways and other natural areas. Once I finish the program, I will pursue a career with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency or quite possibly, a local land management organization, such as the Grand Traverse Conservation District.”

Students not only learn from faculty experts in the classroom, but are also given opportunities to interact with industry leaders. Dr. Denise Keele, associate professor of political science and environment and sustainability, makes it a priority to provide opportunities for students to connect with policy workers by turning her class sessions into what she calls “mini-conferences” with presentations from community leaders in local environmental policy issues.

“Making connections to and incorporating place-based, ‘real-world examples’ from the region is vitally important to effective teaching and learning,” said Keele. “We are helping our students explore ways they, as life-long learners, could get involved as citizens, or as advocates or scientists in their future careers.”

With the Great Lakes containing 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater, the freshwater science and sustainability program is especially relevant to Michigan and will leave students well equipped to enter a rapidly growing field. WMU-Traverse City will host an information session Thursday, Nov. 16 at 5 p.m. for individuals interested in learning more about the freshwater science and sustainability bachelor’s degree program.

During the information session, faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences will help explain the one-of-a-kind interdisciplinary degree.

More information regarding the program is available at https://wmich.edu/extended/academics/freshwater.

  •  What:

    Freshwater science and sustainability program information session

  •  When:
    Thursday, Nov. 16
    5 to 6:30p.m.
  •  Where:
    NMC Greate Lakes Campus, Room 101
    715 E Front St
    Traverse City, MI