Research about Red Cedar River watershed displayed at U.S. Capitol

May 8, 2017

Alexis Econie, an Illinois State University student who did research at UW-Stout, meets with U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis at Posters on the Hill.

An issue that has been a hot topic in west-central Wisconsin for many years, water quality in the Red Cedar River watershed, reached the U.S. Capitol in April, thanks to a UW-Stout federal grant.

Posters on the Hill at the capitol in Washington, D.C., included research by Alexis Econie, an Illinois State University student. She conducted her study in summer 2016 at UW-Stout as part of the LAKES REU — research experience for undergraduates. The program is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Posters on the Hill, sponsored by the national Council on Undergraduate Research, featured 60 research posters by university students from around the U.S. out of hundreds of applications. Students showcased their work for members of Congress.

Econie’s research was one of three posters from UW System schools.

Econie was accompanied by UW-Stout Associate Professor Nels Paulson, social science, co-director of LAKES and her research adviser. Her project focused on people who own farmland but rent it to farmers and when and why these landowners require conservation practices.

Alexis Econie and her research adviser, UW-Stout Associate Professor Nels Paulson, meet at Posters on the Hill.The title of her research is “Power in Connectivity: Social Capital and BMP Lease Agreements.”

“Two of her main findings were that when these nonoperating landowners — NOLs — are politically engaged in local nonprofit organizations and when they discuss the yields from their land with their farmers they are much more likely to require such conservation practices in their lease agreements,” Paulson said.

Better conservation practices are a factor, researchers believe, in cutting the phosphorous load in the watershed’s lakes, rivers and streams and thereby reducing toxic blue-green algae blooms each summer.

Members of Congress, from the Senate and House of Representatives from Wisconsin and Illinois, visited with Econie and Paulson, including Econie’s representative Rodney Davis, R-Ill. Davis is interested in using the research to improve agricultural practices in the U.S., Paulson said.

Econie was excited when Davis — they both grew up in the Macon County, Illinois — stopped at her poster presentation with several members of the media.

“He proposed that we work together over the summer to set up a sustainable agriculture program for the farmers and landowners of Macon and other surrounding counties, based on our research from the National Science Foundation REU hosted at UW-Stout. It was a truly wonderful experience, and I am very fortunate,” Econie said.

Econie said the LAKES REU experience has changed her life.

“It’s easily one of the top two most influential academic experiences of my entire education to date.  Working with the incredible LAKES mentors, especially Dr. Nels Paulson who was my immediate adviser and mentor, helped me to refine my research skills, advance my statistical analysis abilities and boost my confidence in my own ability. Because of the LAKES REU, I know that I have the drive and the capacity to make a positive change through academic research. 

“My LAKES experience provided me a platform for hands-on environmental stewardship and cemented my dedication for pursuing a career in environmental sociology,” said Econie, who graduates this May and plans to do environmental service work in AmeriCorps before enrolling in a graduate program focused on sociological components of environmental preservation.

In the past three years, LAKES REU has worked toward solving the water quality issues in the region with dozens of research projects by students from around the U.S.

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Photos

Top: Alexis Econie, an Illinois State University student who did research at UW-Stout, meets with U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis at Posters on the Hill, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Bottom: Alexis Econie and her research adviser, UW-Stout Associate Professor Nels Paulson, meet at Posters on the Hill.