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New student program focuses on sustaining freshwater services

From large lakes where fish populations thrive to running rivers that generate electricity, freshwater ecosystems supply our world with critical food, water, and power. With a changing climate and projected environmental changes, little is known about the potential impacts these changes may bring to communities. Enhancing the sustainability of these essential freshwater resources by developing a dynamic workforce is necessary in the face of change.

There is an urgent need for scientists from a range of disciplines to work together in innovative ways to solve problems. The Future Rivers Initiative, a new organization in EarthLab, aims to build a culturally-aware STEM workforce fluent in state-of-the-art quantitative approaches that will be necessary for sustaining food-energy-water (FEW) services in large river ecosystems. The Future Rivers training program will support up to 60 trainees as they prepare to effectively safeguard freshwater ecosystem services for a growing world population.

Graduate training that breaks down barriers

“How do we take the perspectives of all of these complementary but different disciplines here at the University of Washington?” asked Gordon Holtgrieve, associate professor for the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “We have engineering, forest science, fisheries, landscape architecture, geosciences, and more. How do we take those disciplines and use each of their strengths to solve problems around freshwater sustainability?”

To address this question, Holtgrieve recruited faculty from across the University to create Future Rivers. This National Science Foundation supported graduate training program at the University of Washington focuses on building collaborative bridges between disciplines to think outside-the-box when it comes to building a foundation of freshwater sustainability.

“The students here at the university really made this happen. Our students voiced that they want to gain skills around data science while connecting with people outside of their discipline,” says Holtgrieve. “These students want to learn more about communication and issues of inclusivity and culture in STEM. Future Rivers was designed and pursued in order to meet this request.”

Building a workforce of the future

Students accepted into the program will get to experience data science courses, science communication trainings, STEM inclusivity workshops, and social gatherings along with professional networking.

As an EarthLab initiative, students will learn to work in applied ways within career fields outside of academia. Future Rivers is creating a solid foundation that connects academic government and industry partners when addressing freshwater issues.

“Enduring solutions to complex environmental challenges usually come from multiple disciplines and sectors cooperating and using actionable science,” explains Ben Packard, EarthLab’s executive director. “EarthLab is thrilled to welcome Future Rivers and to help build the workforce of the future, competent in transdisciplinary work and prepared for careers in a variety of roles.”

As the program moves forward and prepares for its first cohort of students in Fall 2020, the team hopes this program will equip students with the skills and experiences needed to conduct science in an innovative way.

“The metric of success is coming up with new and interesting ways to do science with an interdisciplinary approach,” explains Holtgrieve. “This is the goal for each of our students to achieve and take with them throughout their careers.”

Application and program details

Graduate students interested in the Future Rivers program are encouraged to apply in January 2020. For more Future Rivers program details, please visit earthlab.uw.edu/program-details.

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