National Science Foundation LAKES grant renewed

By University Communications
June 19, 2017
Students in UW-Stout’s LAKES REU visit a Dunn County farm in 2016.

Photo: Students in UW-Stout’s LAKES REU visit a Dunn County farm in 2016.

 
Ongoing efforts in west-central Wisconsin to reduce blue-green algae and improve water quality in the Red Cedar River watershed have received a major boost from the National Science Foundation.

The NSF has renewed a grant for $303,427 for the LAKES REU — Research Experience for Undergraduates — at University of Wisconsin-Stout for three years, from 2017 to 2019. The first three-year grant cycle ran from 2014 to 2016 and totaled $282,000.

Nels Paulson, associate professor of social science at UW-Stout and co-director of LAKES with Chris Ferguson, associate professor of economics, is excited to continue the project.

“Our research has provided some important data-driven inertia for increasing civic engagement on this issue in Menomonie, Dunn County and in other places in the Red Cedar basin,” Paulson said.

The 2016 LAKES REU contingent prepares for a canoe trip down the Red Cedar River.The REU hosts 1o to 11 students each summer for eight weeks, this year June 11 to Aug. 5, from universities around the U.S. Students receive a $4,000 stipend, housing in Red Cedar Hall, a basic meal plan for on-campus dining and travel expenses. More information is available here.

Students use the experience to prepare for graduate school. The project targets minority and/or first-generation college students, as well as those with limited research opportunities at their home institutions.

During the first three years, LAKES’ 32 students produced 31 research projects on social, economic, ecological, cultural and spatial issues related to the toxic algae blooms, which are caused by excessive phosphorous that enters the waterways.

Erin Melly, of Columbia University, presents her UW-Stout LAKES REU research in Memphis, Tenn., at the 2017 National Conference for Undergraduate Research.The project findings have been made public each year via presentations at the Raw Deal in Menomonie, a blog, news stories and the annual Red Cedar Watershed Conference held at UW-Stout.

“We’ve been able to show the economic payoff in cleaning up the watershed, the cultural and social constraints and opportunities in doing so and the geological and limnological dynamics of phosphorous pollution and blue-green algal blooms,” Paulson said.

Research this year will aim at providing recommendations for reducing phosphorous run-off into the watershed and to assess “community capacity to support water quality improvement,” he added.

This spring, research by Alexis Econie of Illinois State University, a LAKES participant in 2016, was featured at Posters on the Hill, one of just 60 collegiate research projects displayed at the U.S. Capitol.

Nels PaulsonEconie said the LAKES experience was life-changing. “It’s easily one of the top two most influential academic experiences of my entire education to date. Because of the LAKES REU, I know that I have the drive and the capacity to make a positive change through academic research,” she said.

Along with the student research, LAKES is collaborating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which has $500,000 in funding for a related watershed project called the Red Cedar River Water Quality Partnership. “We’re trying to make sure our results directly integrate into their own research and decision-making,” Paulson said.

LAKES also collaborates with other area entities and agencies, including the Tainter/Menomin Lake Improvement Association, Dunn County, Barron County, City of Menomonie, Red Cedar Lakes Association, Chetek Lakes Protection Association and the Big Chetac and Birch Lakes Association.

The watershed includes about 40,000 acres of open water and 4,900 miles of waterways.

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Photos

Second Photo: The 2016 LAKES REU contingent prepares for a canoe trip down the Red Cedar River.

Third Photo: Erin Melly, of Columbia University, presents her UW-Stout LAKES REU research in Memphis, Tenn., at the 2017 National Conference for Undergraduate Research.

Bottom Photo: Nels Paulson