Mastering Water Resources Management

April 29, 2019

Bridget Faust, December 2017, Water Resources Management 

From a young age, Water Resources Management (WRM) graduate, Bridget Faust had an interest in policy. From marching with her family in campaign parades as a little girl to spending time at her family’s cabin on a lake in Northern Wisconsin, Faust was encouraged to think about how people and policies were impacting natural resources. So, when it was time to select a major in college Faust decided to combine her passion for policy with her passion for the environment into a degree that would allow her to make an impact, earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences, policy and management and a minor in political science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Motived to use that degree to create change, Faust began a fellowship at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) where she worked on the Great Lakes Coastal Resilience Planning Guide, but she soon found herself pondering new policy-related questions, which led her to apply to the Nelson Institute WRM program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“When I was immediately getting out of undergrad, I did a fellowship through the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research which provided me with the opportunity to work in a NOAA office,” Faust said. “While there, I worked on the Great Lakes Coastal Resilience Planning Guide and that involved doing research on what communities were doing to enhance their resilience to coastal hazards. Along the way I started identifying tools and resources that did similar things, but it wasn’t apparent whether they were talking to each other. That gave me pause, and ultimately raised some policy oriented questions that I couldn’t answer with the education I received out of undergrad. That motivated me to find a program that could give me the opportunity to learn how to answer those questions.”

For Faust, the WRM master’s program was a perfect match as it is an interdisciplinary program that allows students to tailor their courses to fit with interest areas. The WRM curriculum integrates biological and physical sciences with engineering, law, and the social sciences, while giving students hands-on experience through a group practicum, or workshop. Students are also encouraged to combine the WRM program with graduate or professional study in other fields through a certificate or joint, double, dual degree program. Additionally, doctoral students in related UW-Madison programs may complete WRM as a Ph.D. minor.

“I am 100 percent about interdisciplinary works, so I was excited to find this unique program,” Faust said. “Instead of doing a thesis and focusing on one topic, you have the opportunity to go and work with a cohort of people with different backgrounds and interests and use our collective skillsets to come up with a tangible product that can be used by a client.”

After being accepted to the WRM program, Faust began working with her 10-person cohort on their client-focused practicum, which involved creating a management plan for Stricker's Pond, a natural kettle pond on the boarder of Middleton and Madison, Wisconsin.  While there were many parts to the plan, Faust and a few members of her cohort focused their efforts on the social science aspects which included a visitor use assessment, oral histories, and a survey of residents living in the Stricker’s Pond watershed to better understand how the community was using the resource, what concerns they had, and how the pond was being used.

“It was having a great cohort and support system,” said Faust of her team. “You had 10 people going through the same experiences as you and that contributed to a sense of a Nelson community.”

In addition to her cohort, Faust said she also felt supported by WRM professor and chair, Anita Thompson and graduate advisor, Jim Miller.

“I adored working with Anita, she was the best,” Faust said.  “Not only was she great at holding us accountable and keeping us on track, she was also the kind of advisor we could go to with any questions or concerns. You also can’t go away from this experience without talking about Jim Miller. He’s integral to the program and has such great working knowledge of the classes, professors, and all of the students who have been where you are. Having someone like that to go to with questions was amazing.”

In December, 2017, Faust graduated from the WRM program and began a prestigious 15-month fellowship with Wisconsin Sea Grant. As a part of her role there, she works with NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and the Coastal States Organization (CSO).

“I provide technical support on the coastal nonpoint pollution control program, which is jointly administered by EPA and NOAA” Faust said. “It’s a complicated program but working on it has been rewarding and given me practical experience in policy research and analysis. I also help to implement the National Coastal Zone Management Program strategic plan by executing a webinar series aimed at connecting coastal managers to existing NOAA resources. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on an economic impacts and benefits analysis.”

Faust is enjoying her current role and looking forward to a future in environmental policy, but she says she remains grateful to the WRM program curriculum and staff who helped to prepare her for this role by offering an interdisciplinary program with hands-on experiences.

“Having the opportunity to tailor my master’s degree to be exactly what I wanted it to be, which was not just learning about water science, but also the quantitative methods for policy analysis was very helpful,” Faust said.  “Also, having the experience of working with a client was very valuable and helped me learn how to effectively communicate with external stakeholders. I learned to really listen to what they’re sharing and that’s important in any setting.”